11 Sep 2016

Kiwi legal innovation goes viral

From Mediawatch, 9:11 am on 11 September 2016

When you hear about things going viral on the internet you tend to think cats, sex, crime and celebrity.

But this week The Guardian created a slideshow on a Kiwi legal innovation that has been viewed more than 4.4 million times and shared by tens of thousands of people on Facebook.

It's the story of how Te Urewera and the Whanganui River have been granted legal personhood.

Photo: supplied

It's a story that been covered by the New York Times, the New Internationalist, The Huffington Post, and last Sunday the ABC ran a half-hour programme exploring the topic.

And it's a story that despite being a few years old has barely been explored by the New Zealand media.

The New Zealand Herald first reported on river's new legal status back in 2012 but has not revisited it in any depth since.

The National Business Review touched on the concept of nature being granted legal personhood back in 2015 but only to ridicule two of contenders in the Green Party leadership race.

The Guardian's slide show - which seems to have been created specifically for Facebook and does not appear on the Guardian site any form - is a once-over-lightly approach to the topic, but response has been extraordinary.

Te Urewera in the North Island.

Te Urewera, formerly a national park Photo: 123rf

The story has been shared more than 35,000 times and more than 800 people have commented on it.

One of those commenting was Ema Scott, the daughter of the late John Scott who designed the Urewera visitor centre - which has been in the news in recent weeks.

"According to Māori spiritual values a Whare Taonga is a living thing too and yet here in this AMAZING Tuhoe land tomorrow they demolish a category 1 Whare Taonga designed by a famous NZ Māori Architect! Yeah/ Nah! Ema Scott"

Te Urewera's personhood is a part of the visitor-centre story because the legislation that introduced the idea also sets out how the former national park is to be managed, but its been largely ignored in the coverage of the demolition of the Aniwaniwa visitor centre.

Te Urewera Act

Photo: supplied

With the media increasingly in search of content that will go viral they seem to have missed a local story that’s truly of interest to millions.


Ideas programme on indigenous constitutions from 2009