ROB HARRIS AGAINST THE DOMINION POST

Case Number: 3237

Council Meeting: March 2022

Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: The Dominion Post

Ruling Categories: Discrimination

Overview

The Dominion Post published an article on March 12, 2022, headlined For Peace or Putin: Is the Western left soft on Russia? This lengthy piece included comment from a range of commentators on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Rob Harris complained that comments in the article were racial stereotyping which breached the Media Council’s principle relating to discrimination and diversity.

He said the article highlighted “blue-eyed” persons as aggressors with gratuitous and repetitive phraseology such as “Anglo-Saxon, Judaeo-Christian”, “the blue-eyed response” and “if victims have blue eyes we’ll shout from the rooftops. If they’ve got brown eyes too bad.”

He said this article was “myopically racist” and that there was also no counterbalance to these assertions. He also complained that his letter, which pointed out “facts about brown-eyed aggressors – Iraq v Kuwait, Iraq v Iran, Arabs v Israel etc” – was not published.

A Stuff editor rejected the assertion that the article was racist. While it was true that leaders of all colour and creed had been aggressors in wars throughout the ages, the reference to brown versus blue eyes was about the victims of war.

“It is hard to argue with the premise that Western nations appear to show greater sympathy for those victims of war who are European than those who are not including, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. “

 The editor could not answer for the letters’ editor of the Dominion Post as to why Mr Harris’ letter was not published.

The Media Council notes the article put the views of people who had been critical of the US and NATO and who had pointed out the hypocrisy of the West which had not condemned equally brutal Western military invasions, particularly into Iraq.

The comments that offended Mr Harris were the words of commentators who were making the point that race, ethnicity and religion were factors in international relations which influenced the way people responded to particular wars.

Reference to blue and brown eyes was a rhetorical device to emphasise that the West was more inclined to support people who looked like Westerners. It was not racist, and no minority group was denigrated.

Media Council Principle 7 (Discrimination and Diversity) states that issues of race, religion or colour are legitimate subjects for discussion where they are relevant and in the public interest. Publications can report and express opinions in these areas but should not place gratuitous emphasis on any such category in their reporting.

The article’s references to race, ethnicity and religion were - in the view of the Council – relevant and not given gratuitous emphasis.

Mr Harris’ complaint that his letter was not published also cannot be upheld as the publication of letters is an editor’s prerogative.

There were insufficient grounds to proceed.

 

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