RAYMOND NEIL AGAINST RNZ

Case Number: 3011

Council Meeting: MARCH 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Radio NZ

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. The complaint is about an RNZ Pacific online story of 23 July 2020 headedGroup chooses self-styled king in Tahiti. The story said, “According to ‘La Premiere’ several dozen people attended the event at Arahurahu marae in Tahiti where Bernard Taiore was installed”, that the kingdom was launched last year and “claimed to have formed a new government for French Polynesia”; and “purported to have its own money”. It concluded with “Three years ago, another self-styled king in Tahiti, Athanase Teiri, was given a jail sentence for circulating a fake currency of his Pakumotu republic”.

2. The complaint involves an organisation called the ‘Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi’. There is a range of material about the kingdom on the internet including links supplied by the complainant. Much of the material is around 10 years old, and some seems to have disappeared. However, some more recent references exist, mostly media reports, or links to other material such as videos. Information on the internet shows the Kingdom of Atooi exists as a movement. It has both supporters and detractors. However, there is little or no clear information available about the structure of the movement. The kingdom appears to have had a public presence, initially in Hawai’i from around 2013, and in Tahiti as recently reported, with some activities also reported infrequently over the last few years, in other Pacific countries.

The Complaint

3. Raymond Neil says that the story is wrong in claiming the kingdom and king are self-proclaimed and self-styled. He claims that the kingdom is “confirmed by First Nations and United Nations” and “holds seat number 25 on United Nations General Assembly”. He says the story is incorrect with significant errors, and breaches many of the Media Council Principles, especially Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, Comment and Fact (material facts are not accurate), and Headlines and Captions.

4. Mr Neil says that the terms self-styled and self-proclaimed can have adverse meanings such as “questionable motives” or a “questionable reputation”. He says that with “correct investigations” it would be easy to find that the Kingdom of Atooi is not self-styled or self-proclaimed. In the course of a number of subsequent communications Mr Neil has provided further information.

5. We set out now the explanation of Mr Neil as to the background. He says in relation to the Kingdom of Atooi, that there is “only one king” and Mr Taiore’s (Tahiti) “allegiance” is to Ali’i Nui (King) Aleka Aipoalani of the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi (Hawai’i). Internet research and information from Mr Neil suggests Ali’I Nui claims descent from the Hawaiian Kamehameha royal line. Mr Neil provided the Council with copies of documents of 3 March 2020 from The Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi (PKOA)/Hawaiian Kingdom. A covering letter addressed to “Ambassador Raymond Neil, Ambassador to the United Nations”, PKOA, signed by Gene Teves, “Privy Councilor, Chief of Staff”, PKOA attached signed documents in which Mr Taiore stated inter alia “I am not the King of Tahiti or of Polynesia……I was appointed as Chief Customary of the district of Paea”. There are witness endorsements from General Thierry, Honu Pouira, Minister of Defense, PKOA and Captain Gabriel Guinard, Counsellor General, PKOA.

6. The covering letter from Mr Teves also says “The statement that there have been two or more Kingdoms of Atooi are false and incorrect. There is only one Kingdom of Atooi, but the correct and complete name is Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi/Hawaiian Kingdom. There are also a number of Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi/Hawaiian Kingdom Citizens which live in Hawaii, Aotearoa, Fiji, Rapa Nui, Samoa, Tahiti, and Micronesia, just to name a few…”

7. In further correspondence, Mr Neil has indicated he is not satisfied with the offer fromRNZ, set out in its response below, to change the description of Mr Taiore from king to chief.

The Response

8. RNZ does not agree with the substance of the complaint. The Kingdom of Atooi in Tahiti was described as self-proclaimed because a kingdom of the same name had already been established elsewhere, in Hawai’i. In a subsequent responseRNZ conceded that there may have been a mistranslation and that Mr Bernard Taiore should in fact be described as a chief rather than a king. If required by the Council,RNZ would be happy to change the word “king” to “chief” in the first line of the story, asRNZ believes it would not change the thrust of the story.

The Decision

9. In formulating its opinions on complaints, the Media Council depends on information supplied by complainants and respondents, and on what information can reasonably readily be discovered from public sources. The Council is not resourced or mandated to undertake exhaustive enquiries or investigations. In this case the Council, as is usual, has reviewed both the material supplied, and what is readily available elsewhere, largely on the internet.

10. The RNZ story uses terms such as “self-styled” and “self-proclaimed”. Dictionary definitions of self-styled say that it often indicates disapproval; but also, that it can mean lacking official recognition. In the Council’s view, the term self-styled indicated in a shorthand way to readers that the kingdom had as yet no official status or recognition; but it did set a negative tone.

Mr Neil makes various claims that the kingdom has seat number 25 at the UN general assembly, and that it has recognition of various kinds such as in the (UN) ECOSOC forum for Indigenous Peoples and by prominent economist Jeffrey Sachs in a UN related capacity. A review of available information including that provided by the complainant shows that the Hawai’i based organisation of Atooi has appeared at or been represented at a number of UN related events and conferences in the past. But no evidence could be found to show that the movement has the status of a member of the UN, ECOSOC or the Forum for Indigenous Peoples, or any other official recognition. There are also internet reports of various social and traditional activities of PKOA, mostly around 2013 and 2014.

11. The Council has carefully considered the available material. It seems clear that the PKOA exists as a movement and has its own organisation, leader and officers. Some of the material reviewed shows the genuine feeling and enthusiasm of the movement for the indigenous Polynesian values of PKOA, which include environmental, social and welfare concerns, and land claims. However, there is little or no evidence to show recognition by the UN or any other official body.

12. The Council notes that reporting on indigenous movements requires understanding of different cultures and communication styles. The Council believes that more sensitivity to such stories will be helpful in the future. In this case it was not easy to work out the makeup and structure of the PKOA, even with Mr Neil’s help. The dismissive tone of theRNZ story is unfortunate but in the Council’s view, does not in all the circumstances outlined above reach the standard of a breach of its Principles.RNZ were entitled to use the term self-styled to give context for the reader about a new kingdom and king being proclaimed. The Council notes, however, that in a subsequent storyRNZ has dropped the use of “self-styled” in relation to PKOA and agrees with Mr Neil that this is a positive development.

13. RNZ offered to “change the word “king” to “chief” in the first line of the story”. We suggest thatRNZ should make this change.

14. The Council concludes that the complaint cannot be upheld on any of the Principles cited by the complainant.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Marie Shroff, Pravina Singh and Tim Watkin.

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