Hobson’s Pledge a ‘divisive group of haters’

Hobson’s Pledge, led by Don Brash, has always been controversial. The Māori Council wants them investigated, believing that an accumulation of statements and behaviour justifies a complaint being made to the Human Rights Commission. saying they are inciting racism and violence.

This is getting into tricky territory in the free speech versus hate speech debate.

Stuff: ‘Divisive group of haters’ in Hobson’s Pledge must be investigated, Māori Council says

The New Zealand Māori Council said on Wednesday it had asked the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to investigate the group, which is led by former National Party and Act leader Don Brash.

Hobson’s Pledge was formed in 2016 and campaigns against what it says is preferential treatment given to Māori.

New Zealand Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki said the council had made the move because “no one’s called them out”.

Plenty of people have criticised Brash and Hobson’s Pledge, but this may be the first time a complaint against them has been made to the HRC.

He hoped the HRC would censure the group.

He said the “accumulation” of Hobson’s Pledge’s behaviour and statements, rather than any one incident, influenced the decision to go to the HRC.

Tukaki also said Hobson’s Pledge was “nothing more than a divisive group of haters who would do nothing more than send us all back to the dark ages”.

“They may wear suits and drive around in late model expensive European cars … but they are nothing more than a gang of misfits that seek to incite hate and divide the country.

“They should be held to account,” Tukaki said.

“They’re creating an environment…in which hate is breeding and not just breeding but duplicating and replicating.”

Tukaki said the Māori Council was concerned that comments Hobson’s Pledge leaders had made in public constituted “incitement to both violence and racism, hate and the segregation of New Zealand society”.

This has a risk of creating publicity for what is  fringe group that is usually ignored.

Hobsons’ Pledge spokesman Don Brash said claims of racism were “absolutely outrageously stupid” and he was taking legal advice.

“It’s a serious accusation … not only of racism, but also of advocating violence.”

“I’m deeply saddened that the Māori Council, which used to be a group of eminent and respected people, should descend to this kind of silly name-calling.

“I have a four-year-old Korean Hyundai, for the sake of the record.”

An odd comment. Owning a particular brand of car doesn’t rule out being a racist.

Brash said if the HRC censured Hobson’s Pledge it would prove the Commission “has absolutely lost its marbles”.

“We’re in favour of a single standard of citizenship for all.”

That’s probably an impossible ideal.

He said the Māori Council was probably attacking Hobson’s Pledge because the lobby group “was actually having an impact”.

The complaint is that Hobson’s Pledge is having a bad impact – “They’re creating an environment…in which hate is breeding and not just breeding but duplicating and replicating.”

I doubt that Brash and Hobson’s Pledge are having much if any impact beyond those who already have hates about what they perceive as unequal treatment of Māori. I doubt they are breeding any more of it.

I don’t think that Brash is a hater, he’s just trying to preach to the already converted who think that non-Māori are somehow disadvantaged because attempts are being made to address disadvantages for Māori.

Media finally report on Sarah Dowie in relation to JLR

For some reason there was blanket media silence on the identity of the National MP who had had a relationship with ex-National MP Jami-Lee Ross, and had sent him a text that had been reported widely and is now the subject of a police investigation.

But now the dam has burst. This had to come out in public. It was widely known anyway.

NZ Herald:  Police probe text allegedly sent from phone of MP Sarah Dowie to Jami-Lee Ross

Police are investigating a text message, allegedly sent from the phone of National Party MP Sarah Dowie, to her former colleague and ex lover Jami-Lee Ross.


The police investigation is said to focus on whether the text message – which came after the break-up of their extra-marital relationship – constituted an incitement to self-harm, which is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Ross, 33, has previously named Invercargill MP Dowie, 43, as one of the women with whom he had an extra-marital relationship while National MP for Botany.

The text message included the words: “You deserve to die.”

Ross has claimed that is an incitement to suicide, even though he claims to have considered or attempted suicide a couple of months after receiving the text.

Ross initially received the message in August but has claimed reading it two months later led to considering self-harm. He was taken into mental health care shortly after.

The text message raised questions over whether there was a breach of the Harmful Digital Communications Act, passed under National and voted for by Dowie. The law regulated digital communications, including text messages, making it illegal to urge someone to self-harm.

The fact of the police investigation was revealed by Ross during a television interview. It was apparently sparked by a call to the Crimestoppers hotline. Ross said he did not lay the complaint.

Ross didn’t say if he knew who laid the complaint, or if they were associated with him.

Asked if Dowie had been aware of the investigation, the National Party leader’s office said she had not.

A spokesman said National Party leader Simon Bridges had also been unaware of the investigation.

This suggests that the police had not progressed the complaint as far as talking to the alleged offender.

Ross and Dowie were understood to have been in a relationship for more than two years. It is believed to have ended around May.

During that time, Dowie and Ross were both in marriages with children each. Dowie and her husband later separated.

Usually the private lives of MPs has been a no go subject for the media, but Jami-Lee Ross has forced this to become public.

This makes things difficult right now for Dowie, but it is remarkable that it has taken it this long to hit the media headlines.

I posted in November:  The non-naming of the National MP raises media issues. For some reason this post got a number of hits overnight.

Dowie should have pre-empted this instead of waiting for a media frenzy.

More (from Barry Soper): Sarah Dowie, the police inquiry, and the text from her phone

We have decided to name her following the police decision this week to investigate a text allegedly sent from her phone to her 33-year-old former lover during the early hours of a Saturday morning last August.

The decision to name Dowie in no way countenances the behaviour of Ross towards the women who have anonymously made claims of harassment and bullying against him.

It’s not the Parliamentary Press Gallery’s job to protect MPs when a police investigation is under way.

The text sent to Ross said: “Before you interpret this as your usual narc self – don’t. Interpret it as me – you are a f***ing ugly MF pig. Shave that f***ing tuft of hair off your f***ing front of skull head and own your baldness – you sweaty, fat, toe inturned mutant. You deserve to die and leave your children in peace and your wife out of torment – f***er!”

Ross says the text was one of the things that triggered a mental breakdown in October.

After re-reading it, he allegedly sent it to Dowie telling her “you get your wish,” before turning his phone off. After being alerted, the police found him south of Auckland.

Ross claims the police recently approached him about the text.

What Ross claims deserves further investigation, as does his current motives.

Some of Press Council dump on Garner

There’s something a bit funny about this issue, but the rest is of serious concern.

I posted Changing faces and population growth this morning. I thought it seemed familiar to something Duncan Garner had previously said but checked – not well enough – that it said Last updated 05:00, December 23 2017.

It was actually published in October. It was clearly marked as opinion:

OPINION: I went to Kmart on Wednesday to buy some new underpants and socks.

It has been updated with this message.

A majority of the Press Council ruled that this column breached Principle 4, Comment and Fact and 7, Discrimination and Diversity.  The Press Council decision is here.



1. Stuff ran an opinion piece by Duncan Garner Dear New Zealand, how do we want to look in 20 years? on 7 October. The column was also published inThe Dominion Post. In it Mr Garner discusses his recent visit to Kmart where he observed the long line waiting for the check-out. He used his observations of who was standing in the line to comment on current immigration policy. He considered what the future of New Zealand may be if, he argues, we do not plan better for our future population.

2. The complaint was upheld by a majority of five members with four members dissenting.

What the hell? Good on four members dissenting, but why are five members dumping on Garner’s opinion?

The Complaint

3. Eliza Prestidge Oldfield complains that the article falls short of Principle 7: Discrimination and Diversity. This principle states that “issues of gender, religion, minority groups, sexual orientation, age, race, colour or physical or mental disability are legitimate subjects for discussion where they are relevant and in the public interest, and publications may report and express opinions in these areas. Publications should not, however, place gratuitous emphasis on any such category in their reporting”.

4. She argues that the article refers to a group of immigrants and suggests that immigration is a concern because the migrants are from those countries. She points out that if the article wanted to avoid a racist subtext particular minority groups should not have been singled out.

So specific ‘sub-groups’ should not be talked about? Garner was describing how he saw things in a queue at K-Mart.

5. She also complains that the article falls short of Principle 1: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, Principle 4 Comment and Fact, in that “a clear distinction should be drawn between factual information and comment or opinion” and Principle 5 that states that columns, blogs, opinion and letters should be labelled as such.

The Response

6. Bernadette Courtney, Editor in Chief Central Region, responds by stating that the column is an opinion piece and clearly labelled as such. She acknowledges that the content may not sit well with some readers but defends the right to present a variety of views. She pointed out that the paper published a right of reply from the Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy and also published a number of letters with a diverse range of views on the article.

It was clearly labelled as Opinion and other opinions were published in response, including one from the Race Relations Commissioner.

The Decision

  • 7. The Press Council in the past has ruled on complaints against opinion pieces. While an opinion piece does not require balance and is entitled to take a strong position on issues that it addresses, it needs to be based on facts that are accurate and to take into account relevant Press Council principles (such as Principles 4 and 7).

(The published decision does have numbered bulleted paragraphs).

  • 8. In relation to principle 7 it should not legitimise gratuitous emphasis on stereotypes or fear-mongering. The Council will not uphold complaints against expressions of opinion simply on the basis that they are extreme, provocative, and/or offensive. However, if the opinion is so extreme in substance or tone as to go beyond what is acceptable as opinion and amount to a breach of Principle 7, a complaint will be upheld.
  • 9. The parts of the article which are relevant to the complaint start with a statement that the visit to the shopping mall “ . . . fast became a nightmarish glimpse into our future if we stuff it up.” The writer then describes “a massive human snake” and continues: “The self-service counter could not cope. It couldn’t cope with the pressures of the people. The dozens of stressed faces making up the human snake were frustrated too. I looked around, it could have been anywhere in South East Asia. I wasn’t shocked – we have reported this for three years – we have targeted immigrants, opened the gates and let in record numbers. This year’s net gain of migrants was 72,000. Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Syrians, and many others. I saw the changing face of New Zealand at the cross roads, otherwise known as Kmart’s self-service counter”.
  • 10. Much of the article consists of legitimate expression of opinion on questions of immigration and population control. It is clearly labelled as opinion and there is no failure to distinguish between opinion and fact (Principles 4 and 5).
  • 11. The main questions before the Press Council relate to the requirements that there be a clear distinction between fact and opinion and that material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate (Principle 4), and to the discrimination and diversity principle (Principle 7).
  • 12. In relation to principle 4, Mr Garner appears to offer the “fact” that New Zealand’s population is growing because of South East Asian immigration. The actual drivers of population growth are more complex than that. It is only in the last three years that India and China were the top two countries of origin for New Zealand migrants, and in any event, these countries are not generally included in the popular understanding of “South East Asia”. Before that the United Kingdom topped all figures. While the Asian population in New Zealand is the fastest growing (up 33 percent from the 2006 to 2013 census), it still only represents 12 percent of the total population, and not all those of Asian ethnicity are migrants. Population growth can also be driven by New Zealanders returning from overseas or deciding not to migrate. Conflating migration and refugees is also unhelpful.
  • 13. In addition, Mr Garner singles out migrants from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria, countries which are the source of relatively few migrants. The immediate juxtaposition of the figure of 72 000 with the singled out groups amounts to misleading the reader on a factual issue. At the very least the line between fact and opinion has become blurred in this case.
  • 14. In presenting the data as he did, Mr Garner has inaccurately targeted a group of migrants in a way that leads the reader to infer that these groups are driving the poor outcomes for all New Zealanders that Mr Garner outlines. Immigration data, however, tells a more complex story. In presenting the data as Mr Garner did, the reader is led to make inferences that the “blame” for New Zealanders’ poor outcomes and standard of living lies with a targeted group of migrants. As such, the complaint under Principle 4 is upheld.
  • 15. With regard to Principle 7, the Press Council acknowledges and agrees that minority groups, race and colour are legitimate subjects for discussion where they are relevant and the discussion is in the public interest. However there should not be gratuitous emphasis on any such category. In this case, the article was directed at immigration and the consequences of uncontrolled population growth. The arguments are not advanced or aided in any way by singling out certain ethnic or national groups. That certain ethnic groups were singled out and some of these are groups do not provide large numbers of migrants is of most concern. Despite the writer’s protestations to the contrary, his approach can only be seen as gratuitous racism, especially when linked with the description of New Zealand’s future as nightmarish. The Council members upholding the complaint paid due consideration to freedom of expression as discussed in previous cases and concluded that this case went beyond what we deemed acceptable.
  • 16. The complaint under Principle 7 is also upheld.

Press Council members upholding this complaint were Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Hank Schouten and Marie Shroff.

Shame on them.


17. The chairman, Sir John Hansen, and three members of the Council, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and John Roughan, disagreed with the decision to uphold the complaint. In their view the column, while unpleasant, did not overstep the boundaries established by the Council’s principles and previous decisions regarding expressions of opinion on subjects involving race.

Good on them.

18. They noted the Council is reluctant to limit freedom of expressions of opinion on any subject and its principles and rulings allow ethnic issues to be debated so long as the references to race are not gratuitous and do not ascribe adverse characteristics or behaviour to an entire racial group. (See cases 2253 and 2260)

19. The columnist in this case was expressing concern about the ethnic diversity of New Zealand’s high immigration over recent years. He singled out several nationalities as those he thought he recognised in a shopping queue. While these groups were not a large component of New Zealand’s immigration, he was using them as an example of “the changing face of New Zealand”. In this context, the references to ethnic groups were not inaccurate or gratuitous in the minority’s view and he was not ascribing any characteristics to them.

20. The columnist did not explain why he was concerned at the ethnic diversity as well as the scale of immigration in recent years, and the clear implication that this did not need to be explained gave the column an unpleasant “dogwhistle” odour. But this sort of opinion is best challenged, in the minority’s view, by open debate rather than objections to its expression.

It was challenged and debated.

21. The Council has long stressed the safe guarding of “freedom of expression” in relation to opinion pieces. We find it impossible to distinguish this case from Toailoa also decided by the Council at this meeting. In that case the Council unanimously declined to uphold a similar complaint against an opinion piece.

The other case decision was discussed here recently in Complaint against David Garrett/Kiwiblog.



Complaint of misrepresentation of Ardern on abortion upheld

A complaint about misleading election advertising that misrepresented Jacinda Ardern’s views and Labour policy on abortion has been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

ODT (NZME): ASA rules Ardern Facebook ad misleading

A complaint against a sponsored Facebook post making it appear Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would end child poverty by having children aborted has been upheld.

The Make New Zealand Great Again Party posted a picture of Ardern on the social media website with the statement “My Labour Party will end child poverty through abortion. No children. No poverty”.

The statement was in quotation marks, which prompted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Quotation marks made it seem as if Ardern had actually said those words, they said.

“[Ardern] has never made the statement that this picture attempts to say she has made.

“This misrepresentation of Jacinda Ardern is clearly factually incorrect and misleading to the viewers of the advertisement.”

The ASA’s complaints board ruled agreed, and said there was no evidence provided to support the impression made that Ardern was being directly quoted.

It breached three parts of the code of ethics and the complaint was therefore upheld by the board.

When advertisements are classed as advocacy, expression of opinion is allowed provided the expression of opinion is robust and clearly distinguishable from fact and the identity of the advertiser was clear.

The sponsored post for the Make New Zealand Great Again Party also said: “New Zealand Labour Party will literally kill child poverty! But remember they are all about ‘the children’, nothing about parental responsibility!”

There were other misrepresentations on abortion during the campaign. NZH on 11 September: Labour leader Jacinda Ardern tackles ‘smear campaign’ on abortion stance

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern says she’s the victim of a deliberate misinformation campaign about her stance on abortion.

The question of where she drew the line was raised during her interview on this morning’s Newstalk ZB leaders breakfast segment with Larry Williams.

Family First NZ’s Bob McCoskrie asked if Ardern would personally endorse Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand’s preferred new law, based on a Canadian model that would seek to legalise abortion on demand up till birth.

Ardern did not shy away from the question but used it to clear up what she said had been misleading information about her views.

“There has been a huge amount of misinformation and my image has been used inappropriately with that misinformation.

“Yes I think abortion should come out of the Crimes Act. That does not mean for a moment that I am proposing what has been claimed, that you should be able to have on demand abortion till birth.”

What Ardern said she wanted was to remove abortion from the Crimes Act and have it put within a regulated context that made sure it was safe.

She categorically denied supporting abortion till birth.

“They have said till 40 weeks, which is wrong, which is wrong. We have time periods already set out in law, I’m not proposing changes to that. I’m proposing it comes out of the Crimes Act.”

Current abortion practices sidestep the law, but requires women (and girls) to make non-genuine statements of harm. And it doesn’t always allow abortions –  in the past decade close to 1500 women have been refused an abortion by the state.

Hundreds of “not justified abortion” certificates were handed out to pregnant Kiwi women in 2016.

Even as the overall abortion rate has trended down since 2010, the number of women told their abortion would not be “justified” has remained steady.

Abortion is technically a crime in New Zealand. Two certified medical practitioners must deem the abortion medically necessary or justified for it to be legal, but in practice the law is routinely subverted by both doctors and patients.

Last year, 252 “not justified abortion” certificates were issued. Close to 1500 have been handed out this decade.

Legal grounds to justify abortion include danger to physical or mental health of the mother and the possibility of having a mentally disabled child. Rape is not legally grounds for an abortion.

From a leaders’ debate on 4 September – Jacinda Ardern: Abortion ‘shouldn’t be a crime’

During the Newshub debate on Monday night, Ardern said she would change the law if she became Prime Minister.

“It shouldn’t be in the Crimes Act. People need to be able to make their own decision.”

“People need to be able to make their own decisions,” said Ardern.

“I want women who want access to be able to have it as a right.”

More from Newshub: Abortion law-change would come down to conscience vote – Jacinda Ardern

On Tuesday, Ms Ardern told the AM Show a conscience vote, where MPs can vote based on their views rather than along party lines, would still allow MPs to keep their personal viewpoints.

“It will still be a conscience vote. We’ll draft the bill but, for instance, Bill English would still be able to vote with his conscience.”

She says she expects some of those within her own caucus would also oppose the bill, but thinks “there will be a majority of parliament that think, actually in 2017, women shouldn’t face being criminals for accessing their own rights”.

“That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have regulation that sits around it but we just don’t think it should be in the Crimes Act.”

Under current law abortion is a criminal act, except that women can obtain an abortion at under 20 weeks’ gestation under the following scenarios:

  • if the pregnancy is a risk to the physical or mental health of the mother
  • if there’s a substantial risk that the child would be “seriously handicapped”
  • if the child is a result of incest
  • if the women is “severely subnormal”.

It is time that the law was brought into line with common practice and supported the rights of those who become pregnant.

While abortions are fairly freely available in practice the number of them are decreasing.

NZH: Abortion rate drops to lowest in 25 years

The general abortion rate – abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44 – was 13.5 per 1000 women in 2016, down from 14.2 in 2015.

Statistics NZ reported that the abortion rates for younger women have fallen significantly in recent years whereas the rate has stayed the same for older women.

Women aged 20-24 have more abortions than any other age group, accounting for about 28 per cent of abortions in 2016.

However, the abortion rate for women in this age group dropped from a peak of 41 abortions per 1000 women in 2003, to 21 per 1000 in 2016.

Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond said the drop was partially due to the increase in women using long acting reversible contraception like the implant and the IUD. They were more effective as they weren’t as exposed to human error.

She also thought youth were getting good access to sexual education information and services and choosing to wait longer before their first sexual experience which helped reduce unwanted pregnancies.

Abortion by the numbers

  • ​In 2016, there were 12,823 induced abortions, 332 fewer than the previous year.
  • Nearly 18 % of known pregnancies ended in an abortion.
  • The highest recorded abortion ratio was in 2003, with 25% known pregnancies ending in abortion.
  • Most abortions, 64%, were a woman’s first abortion and 57% of abortions were performed before the 10th week of the pregnancy.

So reforming the abortion laws would be timely and looks unlikely to result in an increase in the number of abortions.

Privacy Commissioner upholds Hager complaint against Westpac

Felix Geiringer (Nicky Hager’s lawyer):

Westpac “believes that every customer has authorised the disclosure of all of their information… to Police for whatever reason Police give it seems untenable that Westpac would genuinely hold this belief… it would come as a surprise to a great many of Westpac’s customers…”



The Privacy Commissioner’s decision:  Privacy Act Complaint: Nicky Hager and Westpac New Zealand (Our Ref: C/28047) 

Press council versus Matt Heath

In April there was some controversy when two Radio Hauraki hosts ridiculed English cricket player Ben Stokes, then when Stokes’ mother rang up to complain they broadcast it live but told her it was off air.

One of the hosts, Matt Heath, wrote an opinion column that was published on NZ Herald: Matt Heath: When a mother sticks up for her famous son

Ben Stokes’ mum got wind of our comments and rang our studio to stick up for her 24-year-old son. I answered her call live on air thinking she was ringing up for a competition. When we found out she was ringing to make a complaint about us, we thought it would be funny to tell her she wasn’t on air so our listeners could hear someone have a go at us.

In my opinion, Ben Stokes’ mum was being an overly protective parent. She’d heard some people had made jokes about her son and wanted to stick it to us. Good on her.

But she shouldn’t have.

I reckon there is a lesson here for all us parents. Fighting your kids’ battles rarely helps.

Within reason, kids have to fight their own battles. That’s how they become resilient like we all are. You won’t always be around for them. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Your kids need to stand up for themselves today.

Give them love, support, advice and a safe home – but don’t ring up a radio station on air because someone called your boy “Ben Chokes”.

So Heath criticised Deborah Stokes and defended his deliberate deception on air.

But Deborah Stokes didn’t leave it at that. She lodged a complaint with the Press Council, who have upheld her complaint.

CASE NO: 2516



TO BE PUBLISHED ON 11 JULY 2016 Confidential to the parties until 11 July 2016

1. Deborah Stokes complains that a column published in the New Zealand Herald entitled “When a mother sticks up for her famous son” breaches Press Council Principles 1, Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, 2, Privacy, and 9, Subterfuge.

2. The complaint is upheld on Principle 1 with regard to fairness. One member would also uphold on Subterfuge.

The Complaint

11. Mrs Stokes’ complaint provides context to the subject of the New Zealand Herald column, namely the live broadcast of the phone call she made to Radio Hauraki. She says she asked for, and was given, two separate assurances by host Matt Heath that the discussion was off-air. It was in fact on air, broadcast live and was subsequently replayed and referred to on the radio breakfast show several times over the next few days.

12. Mrs Stokes complains that the New Zealand Herald column breached three Press Council principles.

13. Principle 9 Subterfuge: Because the column was based on an on-air broadcast that was itself obtained by subterfuge, the information in the column was obtained by the same root subterfuge, misrepresentation and dishonesty. “It goes without saying that the column cannot be justified as being in the public interest,” she says.

14. Principle 1, Fairness: Mrs Stokes claims the actions of Matt Heath in writing a column based on an act of subterfuge breached the fairness principle.

15. Principle 2, Privacy: Mrs Stokes claims it was a breach of her privacy for Heath to have referred to the matter in the column as the radio broadcast itself was also a breach of her privacy.

The Editor’s Response

19. The editor of the New Zealand Herald, Murray Kirkness, defends the newspaper’s decision to publish the column. It is important, he says, to make the distinction between the original live radio broadcast and the subsequent opinion column when considering the facts.

20. He denies that subterfuge was used in obtaining information for the column as the information was already in the public domain prior to the time of publication.

26. Mr Kirkness submits that the publication of the column did not breach any Press Council rules, and did not go any further than what was widely published nationally and internationally in other media. “I believe it would be a matter of significant concern if the media were not able to comment on matters of public controversy by reason of issues arising out of the circumstances in which a story first broke,” he says. “Once an issue is in the public domain and has become a matter of public debate it cannot be the case that it is impermissible for the media to comment on it by reason of some question mark over the manner in which the information originally surfaced.”


27. The New Zealand Herald column published on April 11 is based on the live broadcast on Radio Hauraki on April 6; however the Press Council cannot comment on the radio broadcast as it is the subject of a separate complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, and this adjudication deals only with the article published by the New Zealand Herald in print and online.

28. The column by Matt Heath was clearly an opinion piece; it was not a news report. Opinion pieces are by their very nature frequently provocative, offensive or controversial in subject and tone, but as long as they are clearly signposted as the writer’s opinion, they are exempt from many of the rules which apply to news reports. The Press Council’s Principle 5, Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters, states that “though requirements for a foundation of fact pertain, with comment and opinion, balance is not essential.”

29. In this case, however, we believe the fine line on what can be deemed fair or not fair has been crossed. Heath’s column about over-protective parents, which under normal circumstances is a perfectly acceptable subject for an opinion piece, was clearly a convenient hook to allow him to justify his actions in knowingly deceiving Mrs Stokes on his radio show.

30. In the column Heath openly admitted his dishonesty, which he said he thought would be funny, and then ridiculed Mrs Stokes for defending her son, writing that “a parental attempt to right things ended up bringing global humiliation on her son”.

31. The Press Council does not accept the editor’s argument that the New Zealand Herald article did not go any further than what was widely published nationally and internationally in other media. The difference was that the Herald published an opinion piece written by the perpetrator of the original deceit.

32. We agree with Mrs Stokes’ view that it was not fair for the newspaper to provide Matt Heath a further opportunity to justify his improper actions on his radio show. It is also unfair that he was permitted to add insult to injury by using her as an example of what not to do as a parent. Otherwise he is able to take advantage of his own misleading actions, which is unfair.

33. The complaint that the column breached Principle 1, with respect to fairness is upheld.

34. With regard to the complaints under Principle 9, Subterfuge, and Principle 2, Privacy, it is clear that rightly or wrongly, the subject of the broadcast discussion between Mrs Stokes and the Radio Hauraki hosts was very much in the public domain by the time the column appeared, so the information contained within it cannot be deemed to have been obtained by subterfuge. Mrs Stokes’ identity was by that stage also in the public domain, so her privacy cannot be deemed to have been breached by the New Zealand Herald article.

35. The complaints under Principle 2 and Principle 9 are not upheld.

However one member of the Council also wanted the complaint upheld on grounds of subterfuge and wanted his dissent noted. The column relied on an interview based on deception, and regardless of whether that interview was broadcast on radio or was simply part of the columnist’s research, the deception remains and, in his mind, was grounds for a wider uphold.

Regardless of this, the actions of Heath (and Jeremy Wells) on air were crappy, and Heath doubled down on his crap with the column.

The Herald published the full finding in Press Council upholds complaint against Matt Heath column.


Hipkins continues to question Speaker impartiality

Labour’s Shadow Leader of the House Chris Hipkins is to appear before Parliament’s Privileges Committee along with leader Andrew Little due to a complaint against the rule that “it is a potential contempt to make a serious allegation against the Speaker that reflects on his or her impartiality”.

Andrew Geddis has detailed this in Can bias be in the eye of the beholder – and can you call it like you see it?

in addition to complaining to the Speaker in the House, Little and Hipkins went to the media with allegations that the Speaker’s decision was taken purely to avoid the National Government suffering an embarrassing legislative defeat.

Here’s Chris Hipkins:

“[National] have clearly done the numbers and worked that out, and now the Speaker is interfering on their behalf to ensure the Government does not face that embarrassment,” Hipkins said.

“This is massive political interference in the parliamentary process by the Speaker.” 

And here’s Andrew Little:

“Instead of helping to push the legislation through quickly National has clearly had a word in the Speaker’s ear, leading him to make an unprecedented decision to stop the bill being read this year,” Mr Little said.

“The ruling raises serious questions about political interference.”

Standing Order 410(o) says that the House may treat (and punish) as a contempt statements “reflecting on the character or conduct of the House or of a member in the member’s capacity as a member of the House”. In other words, if you say something publicly that may lower the estimation of Parliament or individual MPs in the public’s eyes – assuming such a feat is possible – then the House may choose to punish you for doing so.

Furthermore, it traditionally has been accepted that this rule applies with far greater strength in respect to the Speaker of the House, whose ability to function depends upon everyone accepting (or, at least pretending to accept) that he or she does his or her job in a non-partisan, even-handed, quasi-judicious fashion.

This traditional understanding was spelled out by the Privileges Committee (P3C!) in a report issued just this September:

Reflections against the Speaker or other presiding officers, and in particular any comment that alleges that they have been biased in performing their duties, are among the most serious reflections that can be made about members. The rule that it is a potential contempt to make a serious allegation against the Speaker that reflects on his or her impartiality derives from the longstanding practice and tradition of the House of Commons. The rule serves to protect the reputation of the office of Speaker and the institution of Parliament.

Reflections on the Speaker have been censured in New Zealand on only six occasions, the last of which was in 1998. Standing Order 410(o) has therefore been used only on rare and serious occasions. The rules about reflections on members have constitutional significance, and there is no evidence that they are being misapplied to inhibit the free speech of members, the media, or the public. Accordingly, we believe that the rules should be retained in their current form. 

Note that this report was signed off by members of the National, Labour, Green and NZ First Parties … including by one Chris Hipkins!

Hipkins has said he will stand down when the complaint against him is heard.

For those interested, yes I am a member of the privileges committee and yes, clearly I will step aside. Clayton Cosgrove will replace me.

Remember Clayton? The MP you have when you don’t see any sign of the MP.

But Hipkins has continued with his criticism of the Speaker. Today he has tweeted:

This week Parliament has become a farce. OK for PM to tell lies and hurl personal abuse, but MPs who complain about it will be disciplined.

Question Time an essential check on govt power. But it should also involve answers!

Question Time is a farce. Specific questions go unanswered while ministerial insults and abuse go unrestrained.

Newstalk ZB’s chief political reporter responded:

Felix Marwick@felixmarwick
Felix Marwick Retweeted Chris Hipkins

adding to the charge sheet??

Open defiance of the Speaker is probably not wise from Hipkins with a complaint already under way, especially as he is Shadow Leader of the House.

Holding the media to account

In our democracy the politicians and political parties need to be held to account. Every three years the voters get to do that. In between elections it is largely up to the media to hold them to account.

In this day of pervasive and invasive news coverage the media have a very powerful influence in politics. They have the power to make or break politicians, and to make or break parties.

Media coverage of the worm in the 2002 campaign is seen as a major reason for the level of success United Future had. And coverage of the cafe meeting between John Key and John Banks became a major influence on the 2011 campaign – it may have affected party votes, possibly to the extent of syrging NZ First over 5% and backn into Parliament.

What if the media get something wrong? What if they show or print an unfair or incorrect item?

If it’s about a big issue or a big party there can be a lot of noise about it in social media. If it’s about a small party and most commenters don’t care or like the negative coverage because it suits their purposes it won’t get significant scrutiny.

If an inaccurate or unfair item is printed you can write to the editor, your complaint may be published.

If an inaccurate or unfair item is broadcast what can you do about it?

You can officially complain to the broadcaster. I tried this once – during the last election campaign – and was pretty much sneered at, and nothing was done about it.

If the broadcaster doesn’t respond to an official complaint within twenty working days you can then lodge a complaint with the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

In due course the BSA will make a ruling. On the 10th May the BSA published decisions on complaints relating to broadcasts back in April last year, nearly a year ago! In the fast moving modern worlds of media coverage and politics that’s a pointless historic exercise.

If a politician makes a mistake they can immediate and extensive coverage, and they are often put under extreme pressure to respond, sometimes to the point of hounding and harrassing.

If a broadcaster makes a mistake or airs an obviously unfair item they can usually effectively ignore any complaints, unless competing media choose to highlight it.

Those on the receiving end of unfair coverage, the public and the politicians, have virtually no control over any redress, they remain at the mercy of the media.

In the modern age shouldn’t we have an effective means of holding the media to account? Or should we just accept that media’s unfettered power is just something we have to live with?