4 Mar 2021

NZME pulls racist article and bans Bassett

From Mediawatch, 2:37 pm on 4 March 2021

An article published in the Northland Age newspaper on Tuesday and on the New Zealand Herald website has been withdrawn after it was condemned as racist - and publisher NZME says it won't publish Dr Michael Bassett's work on its platforms.

The Commerce Commission has declined a merger which would have created New Zealand’s biggest news media company
Fairfax Media NZ, Stuff.co.nz, 
NZME, NZ Herald.

Photo: RNZ/ Brad White

The managing editor of publisher NZME, Shayne Currie, told RNZ the article was “unacceptable” and commentary from the former cabinet minister and historian “will no longer appear on our platforms.” 

 “It has failed our standards and should not have been published,” Currie said. 

“We are immediately reviewing our processes to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”  

Last week MediaWorks conceded an exchange in which host John Banks condemned "stone age Māori culture" - broadcast on Magic Talk in January - was "a serious breach" of standards and an "organisational failure."

The Northland Age's article - headlined ‘Racism on a grand scale’ and printed under the banner “New Zealand as we know it” - bemoaned what he called a “bizarre craze” of embracing Māori culture. 

“All things derived from Europe, except our creature comforts, must be set aside as we are expected to embrace all things Māori,” he wrote. 

“It won’t be long before the woke who are driving all of this insist on officially changing our country’s  name."   

The article criticised increasing use of ‘Aotearoa,’ teaching New Zealand history in schools, plans for bi-lingual street names and RNZ reporters adopting Māori words and phrases. 

He also claimed “excessive” land confiscations after the wars of the 1860s “came on top of damage Māori had already done to themselves.” and claimed Māori were “thin on the ground in the Auckland area in 1840.”

“When will Aucklanders  - and New Zealanders as a whole - stop cringing and wake up to what is being done to their culture, and largely with their money?” he concluded. 

NZME’s ban on Dr Bassett will disappoint veteran host Leighton Smith, who has had Dr Bassett as a frequent guest on his podcast published by NZME.  

On the February 17 edition - Leighton Smith Podcast: Michael Bassett returns to talk history changes - Dr Bassett discussed the new history syllabus and debate over "local councils and race-based wards".

“The benefits Māori got from the colonists were overwhelming,” he says. 

“Māori were very lucky they got the Brits,” Dr Basset told Leighton Smith. 

Today’s edition of the Northland Age - the first since Bassett’s article appeared - carries a rebuttal by Kelly Jensen of Lower Hutt.

“Dismissing the revitalisation of te reo Māori and the inclusion of Māori culture as woke is an attempt at maintaining the status quo and one's own position of power. Never mind how deeply disrespectful it must be to mana whenua to have the long overdue recognition of their language and culture labelled as ‘cultural cringe." - Kelly Jensen

It isn't the first time NZME’s Northland papers have published stories condemned as racist. 

The front-page story in the Northern Advocate which later vanished from the publisher's news websites.

The front-page story in the Northern Advocate which later vanished from the publisher's news websites. Photo: RNZ

In May 2017 the Whangārei-based Northern Advocate published a front page story headlined “Pre Māori Northlanders?”

The story was based on theories about European settlers arriving in this country long before Māori – thoroughly debunked by experts over the years - along with sketches of what these supposed settlers from Wales might have looked like 3,000 years ago.

That story also appeared on the website of its stablemate the New Zealand Herald before the story was taken down without explanation.

Amateur historian Noel Hilliam claimed the sketches were made by a forensic pathologist from overseas who'd examined some bones Hilliam gave him - but who he claimed had since died.

“He would not name them or the institutions where they work,” the Herald later reported after the story had been withdrawn - also noting Hilliam would not reveal the location of the bones either.

Northern Advocate editor Craig Cooper later published an apology and said he regretted the story had been “a catalyst for some people to infer political or racial motives.”

In June 2017 the Press Council (now called the Media Council) ruled the Northern Advocate “breached basic journalistic principles of accuracy, fairness and balance.”

It said the story touched on sensitive historic and cultural issues and should not have been published without rudimentary checks and the editor was slow to acknowledge problems with this story.

“We have learned many lessons from this story, which has also embarrassed our mātua within the Herald,” Mr Cooper said later. 

“We accept it - and we move on,” he told Māori TV in July 2017 

Mr Cooper moved on to edit Hawke’s Bay Today in 2018 and then became a member of the Media Council’s complaints committee. 

In a Hawke’s Bay Today editorial last December, he reflected on a Broadcasting Standards Authority ruling that broadcaster Sean Plunket had “amplified negative stereotypes about Māori".

“Racism is subtle. And racism is fertilised by ignorance,” he wrote. 

“Next time, before we lament "why can't we all be one people" we should think of the implications beyond that and other comments - and maybe take the time to inform our views with a little education, as well as emotion.”