Having declared its intention to be guided by a set of treaty principles, Stuff has set about suppressing the views of a political group which questions the establishment of special seats for Maori on local local authorities.
Or rather, two publications in the Stuff stable have got into the suppression business.
We learn this from Breaking Views, which has published an item headed Democracy Northland: The Ad Stuff Refused to Publish.
We look forward to a denial from Stuff and a statement which rebuts the Breaking Views claim that the Whangarei Leader and the Bay Chronicle have refused to publish an advertisement which promotes a petition from Democracy Northland.
The advert says:
It’s about democracy
Three of Northland’s four councils are proposing to introduce Maori-only wards (or constituencies):
The Northland Regional Council (NRC), the Whangarei District Council (WDC), and the Kaipara District Council (KDC).
These councils made that decision without consulting the community at large and in fact the NRC and WDC have voted against doing so*.
Unbelievably, after a petition was launched to require councils to hold a binding referendum the Northland Regional Council wrote to the Minister of Local Government requesting “a moratorium or the like on the ability to demand a poll”. **
For councillors to actively obstruct their constituents from exercising a legal democratic right is an outrage. Councillors should work for all of their community, all age groups, all cultures, no matter what their backgrounds. Everyone’s right to have a say should be respected.
There’s a word for it: Democracy.
The advert draws attention to a petition being organised by Democracy Northland.
Is anything illegal or indecent being proposed in that advertisement?
Not that we can see, and we understand it has been published by the Northern Advocate.
Nor (it seems) could the good people at the two newspapers initially see anything untoward.
According to Breaking Views:
- The advert was cleared by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) as being factually correct.
- The editors of each of the two publications initially accepted the ad.
- Stuff confirmed the booking and accepted payment.
But those decisions were reversed just a day before the advertisements were to appear.
The only explanation received to date (according to Breaking Views at the time it posted its item on the rejection of the adverts) was from the sales rep who says:
“Their decision [a three-member editorial panel] is based primarily off the core values that we are paying extra attention to at this given time. Particularly with our current value realignment, they believe the ad may not align with the message that the company is trying to push forward at this stage.
“While I appreciate that there should be a certain element of freedom of voice within all publications, it appears that at this time our editorial team is being extra cautious with what is going into our papers due to the sensitive nature of our current value realignment.”
A written decision from the editorial panel was sought and was awaited – along with a refund – at the time Breaking Views posted its item, which goes on:
We are obviously outraged at the decision to block the ad’, and more so because the advertisement was about democracy and did not go into the merits or otherwise of race-based seats. All we want is for everyone to have a say on the matter – it’s what we understand by the meaning of democracy. That clearly does not align with the realignment values of the Whangarei Leader and the Kerikeri Chronicle.
The writers at Breaking Views should brace for further outrage, now that Stuff apparently has opted to take one side of the debate about the treaty and the application of treaty principles to the way we are administered and governed while– in Northland at least – it silences champions of the other side.
The lofty principle that is being nudged aside is the principle of free speech (although not altogether free in the case of paid advertising).
Stuff presumably now places greater importance on “treaty principles”, although these have been perturbingly pliable since the treaty was signed in 1840.
Lord Normanby, Secretary of State for the Colonies when the British relationship with New Zealand was being finalised, approved the annexation of New Zealand to Britain and approved Captain William Hobson as the first Lieutenant-Governor.
In his final instructions to Hobson, Normanby called for him to gain “the free and intelligent consent of the Natives according to their customary usages” for “the recognition of Her Majesty’s sovereign authority over the whole or any part of those islands which they may be willing to place under Her Majesty’s dominion”.
Just three principles were to be included in a treaty: Justice, Fairness and Good Faith.
The principles of participation, partnership and protection (which Stuff and increasing numbers of other authorities find compelling) are modern political-social constructs.
But they are potent constructs, often invoked without challenge to change the way we are governed and administered.
Now (in the absence of a Stuff denial) they are being invoked by an influential component of our free press to suppress an expression of opinion.
Muzzling opinions because they conflict with the opinions of editorial managers would be perturbing at the best of times. Muzzling them when democratic governance arrangements are the critical matter at issue is shameful.