Thank you for your formal complaint regarding the Paul Holmes column of Saturday Feb 11.
As you are no doubt aware, it is one of many messages we have received on both sides of the ledger since publication. Those supporting his right to his opinion have markedly outweighed those against. Having said that, we are concerned that a number of people have taken such strong exception to it.
There is no question the piece was written in a raw and provocative style. But we do not believe it constitutes "hate speech" or close to it. It is not, as many people have suggested, a commentary on all Maori people or Maori culture generally but on the few protesters who disrupted proceedings. Nor does it breach Press Council principles, which accommodate freedom of opinion in comment pieces.
It was one of a series of opinion pieces discussing Waitangi Day and its place in New Zealand society which began the previous Saturday with a front page cover story by Buddy Mikaere and included an editorial which recognised the obvious divisions in society but supported the idea of the day as being our national day.
The column in question was clearly aimed at the behaviour and attitudes of Waitangi Day protesters at Waitangi itself – similar to criticism by former Prime Minister Helen Clark of protest leaders as ‘haters and wreckers’, in another context. Disparaging and critical words, but neither intended to cast all Maori in that light. Holmes expressed his opinion as a columnist as he is entitled to do in a country where freedom of speech is regarded as a central pillar of public discourse.
Although many have objected to it -- as is their right -- I hope they can recognise that the very ‘freedom’ in the concept of freedom of speech is meaningless if it applies only to speech that offends no one. As has been recognised by the Press Council, true freedom can mean the freedom to be ignorant, offensive and wrong.
The same points can be applied to his comments about anti-fluoride campaigners, La Leche and Syria. They are, as you point out in paragraph 12, opinion.
We strive to publish the breadth of opinion on major public issues and no doubt will carry strong views in the paper and on our website in response to the latest Holmes column.
Hate speech is, outside of the law, any communication which disparages a person or a group on the basis of some characteristic, in this case race. Holmes consistently casts Maori in a negative light, calling us, among other things, “irrational”, “loony” and “hopeless”. Holmes speaks of the “hopeless failure of Maori to educate their children and stop them bashing their babies”. Holmes continues saying that Maori should be left to go and “raid a bit more kaimoana” and “feed themselves silly”. This isn’t disparaging Maori, it’s vilifying us. I don’t know how the Herald can, in the face of this, say that Holmes’ column did not amount to hate speech. The message of the piece, whether intended or not, was that Maori are misbehaving, ungrateful, failures. The first nine paragraphs actively encourage negative feeling towards Maori. Those paragraphs describe us in offensive and unfair terms (in other words racist stereotypes) and, at the same time, perpetuate incorrect perceptions about the Treaty. If the Herald doesn’t think that what Holmes has written is hate speech, then they have glaring double standards. The Herald launched a crusade, and a crusade that continues may I add, against Hone Harawira in the wake of the white motherfuckers comments. Of course, that comment was racist and hateful and I’m sure the Herald agrees. But why are Holmes comments not? After all, where Hone’s comment was more of a throwaway than anything else, Holmes comments are sustained. He launches a systematic tirade against Maori – paragraph after paragraph. Although he falls short of using profanities, the terms he describes us in are much more hurtful.
The Herald is also claiming that Holmes was not targeting his verbal diarrhoea towards all Maori. Again, I don’t see how the Editor can make this claim in the face of what Holmes has written. In reference to Waitangi day Holmes says “it’s a loony Maori fringe self denial day”. Maori, in this context, refers to us as a group. Holmes does not distinguish. He also speaks of the “hopeless failure of Maori”. Again, Maori is referring to us as a group. Holmes continues “no, if Maori want Waitangi day”. No surprise, Holmes uses the word Maori again, and again referring to Maori as a group rather than an individual(s).
No one says Holmes shouldn’t be allowed to say what he wants, but he cannot say racist, offensive, unfair and ignorant things without consequence. Nor can he hide under the cloak of free speech. As I said in a previous post, free speech does not extend to hate speech. And this is hate speech even under the most onerous definition.
So, given the Herald’s lax response, it’s time for more complaints. Here is a link to complain to the Press Council. Remember you can also complain to the Human Rights Commission here. Finally, you can send a complaint to David Hastings, the editor of the Weekend Herald (sorry, Tim Murphy is the editor of the weekday Herald, I’m sure he forwarded your complaints though) at David.Hastings@nzherald.co.nz. Oh, and there will be a picket of the Herald’s office on the 16th. Here’s the link. Keep up the pressure and don’t let the racists legitimise Holmes’ bullshit.