Case Number: 2504

Council Meeting: MAY 2016

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Headlines and Captions
Unfair Coverage


Rob Paterson complains about an article published in the New Zealand Herald on Wednesday March 2, 2016 relating to diversity at Waitakere College.In a somewhat scattergun approach he alleges breaches of:

  • Principle 1 — Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
  • Principle 4 — Comment and Fact
  • Principle 6 — Headlines and Captions
  • Principle 7 — Discrimination and Diversity
  • Principle 12 — Corrections

The Article

This focused on the diversity of the students attending Waitakere College.The headline reads “World in the Classroom”.There is then a large photograph featuring 12 students, each accompanied by a graphic containing the flag of the country they came from and the length of time they had been in New Zealand.The article went into more detail about this diversity.Accompanying the article was a further graphic panel which related to other nationalities attending the school, listing 45 distinct entries with a flag attached to each name.Two of those entries were for ‘Māori’ and ‘NZ European’.In the case of Māori, it had the tino rangatiratanga flag.

The Complaint

Mr Paterson’s complaint relates to the reference to Māori and New Zealand European.He said the panel referred to above was under a subheading ‘Other Nationalities at the School’.He said that the article was racist and separatist, because there is no such thing as a Māori nation or a New Zealand European nation.He considered the article had the potential to create racial divisiveness and separatism by categorising New Zealand citizens into racial nationalities.He said those nationalities in the case of Māori and New Zealand European do not exist, and it is not acceptable to so describe them.He pointed out that New Zealand is a multi-national country made up of many races, more than just Māori and New Zealand Europeans.

The Response

The editor rejected Mr Paterson’s claim, saying no principles were breached.He pointed to Mr Paterson’s own definition of nation as “a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture or language inhabiting a particular state or territoryor an aggregation of people or peoples of one or more cultures races etc. organised into a single state”.Mr Paterson underlined the word ‘or’ as illustrated, which the editor suggested means he must be relying on the second definition, but it was the editor’s view that ‘nation’ can be applied to a group of people sharing a common heritage.

The Discussion

We agree with the editor that ‘nation’ can mean, and frequently does refer to, a group of people sharing a common heritage, culture, language or territory without being a state in its own right.

It is the Council’s view that the article needs to be read in context.Read in context, it is a celebration of diversity at a major Auckland secondary school. We do not see it as having any potential to create racial divisiveness and separatism, as alleged by Mr Paterson.

The Council does not read the article as suggesting in any way that there is a separate New Zealand Māori nation or a separate New Zealand European nation.In fact, we read it to quite the contrary effect, as a celebration of the wide diversity that makes New Zealand the multi-racial country that it is.

We do not consider any of the alleged breaches of the principles have been made out, and the complainant is not upheld.We consider a fair and reasonable reader would have read this article in its true context as celebrating cultural diversity, and not in the way Mr Paterson has managed to construe it.

We do not consider anything in Mr Paterson’s response to the editor’s document changes matters at all.

That document is dated 12 April 2016 and has a postscript:

PS. I would not expect any representative of the NZ Herald or any of its associated publications to sit on the Press Council hearing this complaint.

The Council is well aware of its obligations in relation to any conflicts of interest.The Council, throughout its entire history, has been conscious of its duties in relation to conflicts of interest, and has always handled them accordingly.We are somewhat bewildered by Mr Paterson’s comment.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Mark Stevens, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

John Roughan took no part in the consideration of this complaint.


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