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Robertson and Wright and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2001-087, 2001-088

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • B Hayward
  • J H McGregor

Complainants

  • Colin Robertson of Wellington
  • Liam Wright of Auckland

Dated

2nd August 2001

Number

2001-087–088

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
One News report on Crown compensation to Ngati Rua-Nui says many killed at invasion of Parihaka – inaccurate – upheld by broadcaster as breach of standard G1 – action taken insufficient

Findings
Action taken insufficient

Order
Broadcast of statement

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

An item on One News broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 1 March 2001 reported on an agreement for an apology and monetary compensation between the Ngati Rua-Nui people of South Taranaki, and the Crown. The reporter concluded the item with the following statement:

Several hundred thousand acres were confiscated from Ngati Rua-Nui in the 1860s, and many were killed during the invasion of Parihaka.

Colin Robertson and Liam Wright complained separately to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the item was inaccurate. They said there had been no deaths in the invasion of Parihaka.

TVNZ upheld the complaints, acknowledging that it was inaccurate to state that many people had died during the invasion of Parihaka. The broadcaster apologised and told each of the complainants that it regretted the error. It advised that its news staff had been reminded of the need to ensure accuracy, and that it would make a special point of ensuring the accuracy of any account about Parihaka in future.

Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ, both Mr Robertson and Mr Wright referred their complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority upholds the complaints that the action taken was insufficient and orders that a brief summary of this decision be broadcast.

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the appendices. The Authority determines these complaints without a formal hearing.

The signing of an agreement for compensation to be paid to the Ngati Rua-Nui tribe of South Taranaki was the subject of an item broadcast on One News on TV One at 6pm on 1 March 2001. The item reported that the government had offered Ngati Rua-Nui an apology and $41 million by way of compensation. The reporter concluded the item with the following statement:

Several hundred thousand acres were confiscated from Ngati Rua-Nui in the 1860s, and many were killed during the invasion of Parihaka.

Colin Robertson and Liam Wright complained separately to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the item was inaccurate in stating that there had been deaths at Parihaka. Mr Wright said the land confiscations in the 1860s preceded the invasion of Parihaka by some 15 years or more, and in his view there had been no need to mention Parihaka at all. Mr Robertson said the fact that Parihaka regularly came up in news items made it even more important for reports to be accurate.

TVNZ considered the complaints under standard G1 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The standard requires broadcasters, in the preparation and presentation of programmes:

G1  To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

TVNZ upheld the complaints, acknowledging that the statement had been inaccurate. It stated:

It [the Complaints Committee] recognised that the actions of Te Whiti and his followers at Parihaka amounted to peaceful resistance and that when the armed mounted constabulary arrived on 5 November to enforce the Government’s proclaimed right to confiscate Maori land it was met by children who sang and danced, and by women who baked bread for the "visitors". The arrests were made without resistance and there were no expressions of anger.

TVNZ noted that the intention of the reporter had been to indicate that at the time of the land confiscations, deaths had occurred. The reporter was, however, mistaken in linking the deaths with the invasion of Parihaka, which had occurred much later.

TVNZ stated:

We regret the error and apologise. TVNZ news staff are being reminded of the need to ensure accuracy at all times with a special emphasis on reporting factual events in New Zealand’s past. As Parihaka is a subject that comes up fairly regularly a special point will be made of ensuring the accuracy of the account when next that happens.

Both complainants referred their complaints to the Authority, considering the action taken by the broadcaster inadequate.

Mr Wright stated:

Surely ensuring "accuracy of the account" is standard practice in any reputable news service, and should not require a special effort. Moreover, the fact that Parihaka comes up fairly regularly makes the present error even more deserving of censure and adds further substance to my belief that a specific correction should have been - and still should be broadcast.

Mr Robertson stated:

Parihaka is the touchstone for Maori land grievance and injustice. In its 1996 Taranaki Report, (page 199) the Waitangi Tribunal said that "Parihaka is a symbol of autonomy – of the right of indigenous peoples to maintain their society on their own terms and to develop from mutual respect, a peaceful relationship and partnership with the Government." As a government-owned organisation TV One is part of the "mutual respect" equation and is therefore duty bound, in fairness to all, to get its historical facts right on an event used to highlight past injustices and to justify reparations which affect every New Zealander.

Mr Robertson said people were inclined to believe what they saw and heard on television, especially if it was part of a news item. In his view, people should not be left to believe an untruth about history. He wanted TV One to broadcast a stand-alone statement correcting the error.

TVNZ advised the Authority that it had given some consideration to a researcher’s submission that the term Parihaka was synonymous with the Taranaki wars as a whole. It noted that in those wars 400 deaths had been catalogued. The broadcaster accepted that the reference in the news item complained about had been specific in talking about the invasion of Parihaka. It considered, however, that the researcher’s submission indicated the sensitivity of the issue. In those circumstances it did not believe any correcting statement was appropriate because, stated baldly and out of context, it could itself be open to challenge.

In Mr Wright’s final comment, he said he did not understand TVNZ’s arguments against the broadcast of a correcting statement, and reiterated his view that a correction should be made. In his view, TVNZ’s error was "major" and the invasion of Parihaka was of "major importance in the history of New Zealand".

The Authority’s Findings

The Authority’s task is to determine whether the action taken by TVNZ was insufficient when it upheld the complaints about the inaccuracy of remarks concerning deaths at Parihaka.

The Authority notes that when the broadcaster upheld the complaints it apologised to each of the complainants and advised them that, as the subject of Parihaka came up "fairly regularly", it would make a special point of ensuring accuracy when that next happened.

In considering this complaint, the Authority has taken into account the Waitangi Tribunal’s Taranaki Report 1996. The findings in that Report demonstrate the sensitivity of the subject matter of this complaint for New Zealanders. In particular, the Authority notes the Report’s comments that the Parihaka invasion must be seen in the context of the Taranaki Wars, and that although no-one was killed during the invasion of Parihaka, many were killed during the Taranaki Wars. Furthermore, the Authority notes the findings in the Report that the invasion itself was not without casualty:

Images of a fuller picture escaped later in the public arena; images of assaults; rape; looting, pillage, theft, the destruction of homes; the burning of crops; the forced relocation of 1556 persons without money, food or shelter; the introduction of passes for Maori to facilitate the military in control of movements in the area; and the suspension of trials and other legal safeguards when it appeared lawful convictions might not be achieved (p206).

The Authority concludes that the subject of Parihaka is of such public importance and sensitivity, and the error made by TVNZ of sufficient significance, as to require TVNZ to take further action. It notes that the complainants both advocated the broadcast of a corrective statement. The Authority considers this to be an appropriate course in these circumstances, but is of the view that in the preparation of the statement, TVNZ should have regard to the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal’s Taranaki Report referred to above.

 

For the reasons above, the Authority upholds the complaints that the action taken by Television New Zealand Ltd in relation to a broadcast on 1 March 2001 was insufficient.

Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose an order under s.13(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. For the reasons outlined above, it makes the following order.

Order

Pursuant to s.13(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders Television New Zealand Ltd to broadcast a brief summary of this decision, approved by the Authority. The broadcast shall be made on One News within one month of the date of this decision, at a time and date to be approved by the Authority.

The Authority draws the broadcaster’s attention to the requirement in s.13(3)(b) of the Act for the broadcaster to give notice to the Authority and the complainant of the manner in which the order has been complied with.

In reaching this decision, the Authority records that it has considered whether the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, is unjustifiably infringed. The Authority is satisfied that its decision to uphold these complaints, and the resultant order it has imposed, are actions which are explicitly authorised by its empowering legislation. The Authority has also satisfied itself that the exercise of its powers on this occasion does not unduly restrict TVNZ’s right to freely express itself.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
2 August 2001

Appendix I

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

  1. Colin Robertson’s Formal Complaint to TVNZ – 2 March 2001
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 20 March 2001
  3. Mr Robertson’s Referral to the Authority – 3 April 2001
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 27 April 2001

Appendix II

  1. Liam Wright’s Formal Complaint to TVNZ – 15 March 2001
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 21 March 20001
  3. Mr Wright’s Referral to the Authority – 11 April 2001
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 27 April 20
  5. Mr Wright’s Final Comment – 29 May 2001