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MacCallum and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2001-099

Members

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

Complainant

  • P M MacCallum of Havelock North

Dated

16th August 2001

Number

2001-099

Programme

One News

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
One News – item on Ngati Ruanui’s acceptance of Treaty of Waitangi claim settlement – conflicts of 1860s–1880s described as Taranaki Land Wars – description unfair and inaccurate – item biased

Findings
Standard G1 – not a point of fact – no uphold

Standard G6 – not unbalanced, unfair or impartial – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

An item on One News broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 12 April 2001 reported that Ngati Ruanui of South Taranaki had voted to accept a $41 million offer from the government to settle a Treaty of Waitangi claim dating back to the 1860s. During the course of the item, the conflicts of the 1860s-1880s were described as the Taranaki Land Wars.

P M MacCallum complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the description "the Land Wars" was unfair and reflected a "particular political and racial viewpoint". Mr MacCallum suggested a more neutral term would be "the New Zealand Wars". He also objected to the item’s reference to Parihaka.

While accepting there was a move towards use of the phrase "the New Zealand Wars", TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the term "the Land Wars" was inaccurate, untruthful or unfair. It said Parihaka had been mentioned because Ngati Ruanui were among the Maori who defended the settlement at the time of the invasion.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr MacCallum referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

An item on One News broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 12 April 2001 reported that Ngati Ruanui of South Taranaki had voted to accept a $41 million offer from the government to settle a Treaty of Waitangi claim dating back to the 1860s. During the course of the item, the conflicts of the 1860s-1880s were described as the Taranaki Land Wars.

P M MacCallum complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the description "the Land Wars" was unfair and reflected a "particular political and racial viewpoint". The complainant suggested that the term "the New Zealand Wars", which was the title given to Professor James Belich’s recent television series, was a "neutral term which would not cause offence".

He said:

The causes of the wars and events leading up to them are complex. Neither in the preliminaries or in the conduct of the wars was the fault all on one side. To describe them as the Land Wars implies otherwise.

Mr MacCallum also complained that the item was "further slanted" by its reference to "the Crown’s heavy handed action at Parihaka Pa in 1881", explaining that Parihaka Maori had been one of the first communities to receive gas and electricity.

TVNZ considered the complaint under standards G1 and G6 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. In the preparation and presentation of programmes, those standards require broadcasters:

G1  To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.

TVNZ’s Complaints Committee acknowledged that a "brief phrase to encapsulate the nature of the warfare between Maori and European in the latter half of the 19th century [had] been hard to come by".

In researching the complaint, TVNZ said it had studied the position taken by the History Department at the University of Auckland. The broadcaster said:

While it seems to be agreed by all scholars [at the University of Auckland’s History Department] that the term "Maori Wars" is no longer acceptable, there is ambivalence about other descriptions. As is well-known, Professor Belich has a preference for "New Zealand Wars" but his colleague Professor Ranginui Walker cautiously uses the term "land wars" in his history of New Zealand.

TVNZ continued:

The term "land wars" seems to have been coined by the late Professor Keith Sinclair and appears in much of his writing, though he too may have tended towards "New Zealand wars" in his later years.

Some scholars have suggested writers should be more specific and should perhaps refer separately to the Taranaki wars, or the Waikato wars. Others object to this on the basis that such a move would tend to cloud the common themes found in these conflicts.

While accepting there was a move towards the phrase "the New Zealand Wars", the broadcaster said "at this point" it was not inaccurate or untruthful to use the phrase "land wars". It said the phrase "land wars" focussed on the main issue which prompted the fighting, which it said was "the infringement upon and confiscation of land which, whether in productive use or not, had and still does have particular spiritual significance and value for Maori". In the case of Ngati Ruanui’s claim, TVNZ said the phrase was "particularly appropriate", given that the Treaty settlement had to do with a "specific case of land confiscation".

In relation to Mr MacCallum’s objection to the reference to Parihaka, TVNZ said Parihaka had been mentioned because Ngati Ruanui were among the Maori who defended the settlement at the time of the invasion. TVNZ said its Complaints Committee could not understand the relevance the complainant attached to Parihaka later gaining gas and electricity. It said:

That it did so does not change the fact that during the invasion the Maori people (adopting a passive resistance approach under Te Whiti) were expelled from their land and had their crops destroyed.

The broadcaster declined to uphold a breach of standard G1, saying it could find no evidence of inaccuracy in the item. It also declined to uphold a breach of standard G6, stating that in the "necessarily brief context of a news item", the description of events had been presented in a balanced, fair and impartial manner.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr MacCallum referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

With regard to TVNZ having studied the position taken by Professor Ranginui Walker, Mr MacCallum said Professor Walker was not an historian or a lawyer. Rather, he was a Doctor of Philosophy whose academic discipline was anthropology and whose speciality was Maori studies. As an advocate for Maori, Professor Walker had a "clear conflict of interest" when advising TVNZ, he said. The complainant wrote:

He [Professor Walker] believes with total conviction that not only is there a special relationship between Maoris and the Crown but also that Maoris are being denied rights to which that relationship entitles them. It is clearly in his and their interests to imprint all non-Maoris with a pervasive guilt and to get our unconscious acceptance of the significance of phrases like "the Land Wars".

Mr MacCallum questioned the accuracy of TVNZ’s assertion that the late Professor Keith Sinclair appeared to have coined and used the term "the Land Wars". Reiterating his view that the fighting in New Zealand had more than one cause, the complainant quoted from a work of Professor Sinclair where the Professor wrote:

More recently a few historians have called them the ‘land wars’, which implied that the fighting had only one cause, which few historians believe.

In relation to TVNZ’s comment that "a brief phrase to encapsulate the nature of the warfare between Maori and European in the latter half of the 19th century [had] been hard to come by", Mr MacCallum said:

Surely the obvious one is the neutral, dispassionate, non-controversial "New Zealand Wars"?

With regard to TVNZ’s defence of its reference to Parihaka in the item, Mr MacCallum said the item left the impression that the Parihaka village had been razed and the crops destroyed. He said:

And yet in a short space of time Parihaka appears as an apparently healthy community which went from strength to strength. The action of John Bryce [Native Minister at the time] can hardly be described as an "invasion".

In its response to the Authority, TVNZ said it must "protest the implication that Dr Walker is not a reputable or reliable historian". It said his book "Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou – Struggle Without End" was a "highly regarded history of New Zealand from a Maori perspective", which appeared on many reading lists for graduate and undergraduate history studies at New Zealand universities.

TVNZ said it did not wish to "prolong the debate" about whether Professor Sinclair had coined the term "land wars". It said historians at the University of Auckland believed he had been the first to use the term, and it noted that later in his career Professor Sinclair had switched to the "New Zealand Wars", using the term "Anglo-Maori Wars" on one occasion.

As to Parihaka, TVNZ said it did not believe that what happened later at Parihaka "obliterate[d] what happened on the day of the invasion". It continued:

There is no question, we suggest, that Parihaka was invaded, that its people were expelled and their crops burned.

In his final comment to the Authority, Mr MacCallum said the excerpt he had produced from Professor Sinclair’s writings demonstrated "beyond doubt" that by 1991 Professor Sinclair had seen the "error of his ways" (in previously referring to "Land Wars").

The complainant said his description of Professor Walker’s background had been taken from Professor Walker’s own writings. He said:

If, as TVNZ maintains, he is also an historian then he is, as TVNZ admits, an historian who presents the history of New Zealand from a Maori perspective. In that context he is no doubt reputable and reliable but the whole point is that if you are a state owned organisation with a statutory duty to show balance, impartiality and fairness, then you do not turn for advice and information to someone whose reputation is built on presenting material from a particular racial perspective.

Mr MacCallum maintained that TVNZ had not justified its use of the term "Land Wars", but had demonstrated that the term was inconsistent with TVNZ’s "statutory duty".

Mr MacCallum said TVNZ had described what happened at Parihaka in an "emotional and over-dramatic fashion". He urged the broadcaster to read "with an open mind" an excerpt he had provided from a work of Professor Sinclair which described events at Parihaka.

The Authority’s Findings

Mr MacCallum complained that, in reporting on Ngati Ruanui’s acceptance of the Government’s offer to settle a Treaty of Waitangi claim dating back to the 1860s, it was inaccurate and unfair for the broadcaster to refer to the Taranaki "Land Wars". A more neutral term would have been the "New Zealand Wars", he said. In addition, he said a reference to Parihaka "further slanted" the item.

Standard G1 requires broadcasters to be truthful and accurate on points of fact. In the Authority’s view, the essence of Mr MacCallum’s complaint is that he objects to the broadcaster’s terminology. In describing last century’s conflicts as Land Wars, the Authority does not accept the complainant’s contention that the broadcaster breached the requirement for accuracy. In its view, the description is not a "point of fact" to which the standard applies. The Authority reaches that conclusion by noting that perspectives on history change and historical terminology evolves over time. The Authority is satisfied that the broadcaster’s description was one of a range of acceptable phrases for describing the conflicts referred to in the item. As such, the Authority declines to uphold a breach of standard G1.

In view of its findings under standard G1, the Authority also finds no evidence that the item was unbalanced, impartial or unfair, so as to contravene standard G6 in relation to the use of the phrase Land Wars. In addition, the Authority considers it was legitimate for the item to refer to Parihaka, given that Ngati Ruanui were among those who defended the settlement. The Authority declines to uphold the aspect of Mr MacCallum’s complaint that this reference "further slanted" the item.

 

For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
16 August 2001

Appendix

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

  1. P M MacCallum’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 22 April 2001
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 14 May 2001
  3. Mr MacCallum’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 6 June 2001 (plus attachment)
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 15 June 2001
  5. Mr MacCallum’s Final Comment – 28 June 2001