Case Number: 3508

Council Meeting: April 2024

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: TVNZ

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance

Ruling Categories: Te Reo and reporting on Te Ao Maori


  1. Robin Grieve complains about an episode of the TVNZ programme, Mata Reports titled Trick or Treaty? Indigenous Rights, Referendums, and the Treaty of Waitangi. It was posted on the TVNZ website on 22 December 2023. The complaint under Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance is not upheld. 

The Article

  1. The 25-minute episode featured politicians, campaigners, academics and commentators discussing the Voice to Parliament referendum in Australia and what could happen in New Zealand if there was a referendum on the Treaty of Waitangi. The written introduction to the video said the fate of the Treaty was “teetering on the brink of a popular vote”. The Australian Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum was a cautionary tale, the introduction said, “highlighting the precarious nature of safeguarding indigenous rights when subject to majority decision-making”. 

The Complaint

  1. Robin Grieve complained that the programme was inaccurate because it made the issue of whether there should be a referendum on the Treaty principles about race, when support or opposition to the proposal was not a matter of a person’s race, he said. Not all Māori opposed the proposal for a referendum on the Treaty principles. Support or opposition to the Voice to Parliament referendum was also determined by political views, not race. The programme incited racial disharmony by making the debate about race, he said.
  2. The programme referred to Māori as if they were a homogenous entity, Mr Grieve said. “There is however no such thing as Māori, there are just Māori people,” he said. Māori people were diverse in their views. “Racially stereotyping people as the programme does and assuming a political viewpoint based on race is akin to racial profiling and is a step to racism.” The presenter had extreme views and believed Māori people were entitled to rights and privileges that people of other races were not. For many people that was a “vile and racist” belief.
  3. Mr Grieve cited a number of statements in the episode that he said were inaccurate. 
  4. The programme said: “It was the vote which shocked the indigenous people of Australia.” Not all indigenous people of Australia were shocked, Mr Grieve said. It would have been acceptable to say the “no” vote shocked “some Indigenous Australians”. The programme racially stereotyped people and denied them their individuality. Mr Grieve said “the racists who made the programme” thought all Aboriginal people thought and felt the same, and the same went for their perception of Māori.
  5. Another statement in the episode Mr Grieve objected to said: “Their fellow countrymen decisively rejecting a proposal to recognise them in the constitution.” This relied on the premise that it was not Aboriginals who were rejecting the proposal, yet many Aboriginals rejected it too, Mr Grieve said.
  6. The programme said: “The Voice to Parliament referendum held here in Australia divided the country and ultimately delivered a devastating blow to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island People.” Many Aboriginal and Torres Island Strait people were thrilled with the result, Mr Grieve said. 
  7. He also objects to the presenter saying the rejection of the Voice was “one of the darkest moments in Australian indigenous history”. That was her opinion and for many Aboriginals it was far from a dark moment, he said. While Mr Grieve said he had no issue with the presenter expressing her opinions, they should be obviously expressed as opinions, or viewers might be misled. 

The Response

  1. TVNZ said the issues being discussed were a matter of public importance and significant viewpoints were included on the issue, which would continue to be debated in the coming months and years.
  2. The programme acknowledged some Māori supported the Treaty referendum and some Indigenous Australians opposed the Voice to Parliament. Their views were included. TVNZ gave examples of Indigenous Australians who were quoted as supporting the “no” campaign, and David Seymour, a Māori, promoted the referendum.  It would be clear to viewers that not all Indigenous Australians supported the “yes” vote.  However, TVNZ noted that polling booths with a high share of Indigenous Australians had a high “yes” vote. There was no inference that Māori or other indigenous people are not permitted to, or should not, hold their own view on political matters, TVNZ said.
  3. TVNZ denied the presenter discussed her own views, however the Bill of Rights Act 1990 protected her right to hold an opinion and discuss it.
  4. Mr Grieve accused the programme makers of “racist bigotry” against Māori and Aboriginal people. This line of argument was designed to chill discussions he did not like, TVNZ said, and limit the reasonable freedom of expression rights for viewpoints which the complainant did not agree with. Mr Grieve objected to this in his final comment, saying that he was calling out TVNZ for its stereotypical view of Māori and indigenous Australians.
  5. It was commonplace to reference Māori as a group and TVNZ gave examples of Prime Minister Christopher Luxon using the term Māori in this way. TVNZ said governments frequently referred to policies for Māori. On Mr Grieve’s statement “there is no such thing as Māori,” TVNZ said this was plainly wrong, quoting Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand and decisions from the Courts. 

The Discussion

  1. Mr Grieve takes exception to Māori or Indigenous Australians being referred to as a group when discussing political matters that affect them and says the terms should not be used in this way as it implies that every Māori or Indigenous Australian has the same view, when this is not the case.  
  2. The Media Council considers that ascribing certain views to Māori and Indigenous Australian in this episode of Mata does not mean every Māori would be in favour of a particular point of view, in the same way that not every supporter of a political party would support every policy promoted by their party. The views of Indigenous Australians who opposed the Voice to Parliament were clearly expressed.
  3. The Media Council disagrees with Mr Grieve’s statement: “There is no such thing as Māori.” The use of the term Māori to refer to Māori people in general is commonly found in Parliament, political discourse and the courts.
  4. The Media Council also considers that Mr Grieve’s accusations of racism against those who made the programme were without evidence. 
  5. The subject of a possible referendum on Treaty principles falls under the category of a long-running issue, where balance is not required in every item published and can be achieved over time in other published works, as set out in Principle (1). However, the programme did include the views of those opposed to the Voice and the Treaty referendum, so some balance was provided. Mata Reports views issues through a Māori lens, and while that would not excuse a breach of the Media Council Principles, the Council believes there were no such breaches in this case. The Media Council considers the episode adds to the debate about the possibility of a Treaty referendum and what the consequences of this could be. The Council expects this subject will be explored from all angles as the debate progresses. The preamble to the Media Council Principles states: “There is no more important principle in a democracy than freedom of expression… In dealing with complaints, the Council will give primary consideration to freedom of expression and the public interest,” and the Media Council considers that statement important in this context. 
  6. Decision: There is no breach of Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance. The complaint is not upheld.  

Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Hank Schouten, Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Ben France-Hudson, Jo Cribb, Judi Jones, Marie Shroff, Alison Thom.

Council members Tim Watkin and Richard Pamatatau declared conflicts of interest. Mr Pamatatau withdrew from the meeting. Mr Watkin participated in the discussion but did not vote.


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