STEVE BERRY AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 3066

Council Meeting: JULY 2021

Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Columnists Opinion
Discrimination
Te Reo and reporting on Te Ao Maori

Overview

Steven Berry complained about an opinion piece by Tony Wall published on Stuff on 5 June 2021, headedRacist incidents are giving Tauranga a bad name. Recent events had brought shame on the city, the story said, citing an example of a woman who was booed when giving a Māori welcome and a man inciting violence toward Māori in a YouTube video. “Tauranga is a beautiful city with a rich cultural history, but it seems to have been taken over by an army of white, privileged rednecks,” the article said.

Steven Berry complained that the writer had used a racial slur (redneck was defined as a poor white person without education, he said) to generalise a diverse group of New Zealanders who resist electoral systems that discriminate on the basis of race.

Stuff replied that this was a strongly worded opinion piece and that, to the writer, it felt as if racist white people were common in Tauranga where he lived. The term redneck was appropriate and justified in the context. Stuff provided him with a link to their editorial policy document, as requested.

The policy said that “Journalists should not publish pejorative or prejudiced material based on ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, physical appearance or ability, social status or illness.” Berry said the use of the word redneck was clearly discriminatory as it was based on ethnicity, socioeconomic status and social status.

The Council does not judge complaints against Stuff’s editorial policy, but rather against the Media Council Principles. The term redneck is used in different ways and in the context of this article was obviously not talking about the poor or uneducated, as the article referred to “an army of white, privileged rednecks”. Strong descriptive words can be used in opinion pieces although the facts on which they are based must be accurate. The use of the term “redneck” which has no clearly defined meaning, is a matter of opinion, not fact. In this context we see it being used as an eye-catching reference to those with conservative reactionary views.

This is a clearly marked opinion piece in which the writer comments on what he sees as racism in Tauranga, as he is entitled to do, so there is no requirement for fairness or balance. No Principles have been breached.

Finding: Insufficient Grounds to Proceed.

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