Case Number: 3060

Council Meeting: JUNE 2021

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Radio NZ

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Te Reo and reporting on Te Ao Maori


1. Robin Grieve complains about an item published by RNZ on March 4, 2021. He considers there was a breach of Media Council Principle 1 (Accuracy, fairness and balance).

2. The Media Council does not uphold the complaint.


3. On March 4, 2021, RNZ published an item on its website headedNZME pulls racist article and bans Bassett. NZME had withdrawn an article by Dr Michael Bassett published in theNorthland Age and on the New Zealand Herald website and announced that it would no longer publish Dr Bassett’s work on its platforms. In addition, in an article by Kelly Jensen published on 6 March 2021, theNorthland Age apologised for publication of the Bassett article with its “unacceptable views” and endorsed contrary views.

4. The part of the RNZ article relevant to this complaint quoted Dr Bassett’s views (as expressed in his article), including statements that:

  • There is a bizarre craze of embracing Māori culture
  • “All things derived from Europe, except our creature comforts, must be set aside as we are expected to embrace all things Māori”
  • Land confiscations came on top of damage Māori had done to themselves
  • There were few Māori in the Auckland area in 1840.

It said Dr Bassett also criticised the use of the name Aotearoa, teaching New Zealand history in schools, plans for bi-lingual street names andRNZ reporters adopting Māori words and phrases.

The Complaint

5. Mr Grieve complains that it was inaccurate to say that Dr Bassett’s article was condemned as racist and also inaccurate to say that it was racist. There was no mention in theRNZ article of any person condemning the article as racist, nor did it say which remarks were considered racist.RNZ made a statement of fact that the article was racist. This is inaccurate andRNZ should now withdraw the claim and apologise.

6. Dr Bassett’s article made statements that some people may not have liked, but that is not an indication of racism.

The Response

7. RNZ’s initial response to the complaint came from George Bignell, Complaints Co-ordinator, and was brief. He saidRNZ did not agree with the gist of the complaint. It was clear from the comments of the NZME managing director, Shayne Currie that he as well as a number of readers of his newspaper considered Dr Bassett’s work to be racist.

8. In expanding on the response, Mr Bignell later said that “Put simply, it is reasonable to describe any article that distinguishes Māori from others on the basis of race as “racist”.” He referred to an analysis of Dr Bassett’s article by another historian, Dr Scott Hamilton, in which Dr Bassett’s article was described as “. . .racist cherry-picking and false reporting of facts.” He also referred to an article by Kelly Jensen in theNorthland Age, responding to Dr Bassett’s article and describing his views as racist.

The Discussion

9. Media Council Principle 1 requires publications to be accurate, fair and balanced in their reporting. While there has been some discussion of the historical accuracy of parts of Dr Bassett’s article, the only issue Mr Grieve has brought to the Media Council is the description of the article as racist. He says the description is a statement of fact that is inaccurate.

10. While it is true that the RNZ article does not specifically state that Dr Bassett’s article was racist or that any specific person or organisation had condemned it as racist, it is entirely clear from theNorthland Age article of March 6 that it was an apology for publishing racist material. An early paragraph states “It is curious to me that the author, who laments the apparent demise of Pākehā culture in Aotearoa New Zealand as racism on a grand scale, appears entirely ignorant of the racist views peddled throughout his article.”

11. The concept of racism is difficult to define. At its simplest, it is the placing of different values on different groups of people who share a genetic and cultural inheritance and usually involves a devaluing by a majority group of the members and culture of a minority group. Perceptions of racism will often have a subjective element and much will depend on context. Racism is not a “fact” that can always be independently and objectively established, but in this case Dr Bassett’s article very clearly rates European language and culture more highly than Māori and describes New Zealand history almost exclusively from a Pākehā point of view. This extreme view in Dr Bassett’s writings, based on an assumption that the culture of the majority group in this country, of which Dr Bassett is a member, is plainly superior to that of Māori, in the Council’s view justified the adjective “racist”.


12. The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff and Tim Watkin.

Raynor Asher and Craig Cooper took no part in the consideration of this complaint.

Rosemary Barraclough stood down to maintain the public member majority.


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