Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Complaint re: Paul Holmes on Waitangi Day

This Saturday the weekend edition of the New Zealand Herald published an opinion column by Paul Holmes (someone with a chequered history) which was, to put it plainly, racially motivated hate speech. This was the letter of complaint I wrote to the editor. If you wish to do the same, his name is Tim Murphy and his address is tim.murphy@nzherald.co.nz.

Dear Mr Murphy

I wish to lodge a complaint with your paper on your decision to publish Paul Holmes's opinion column 'Waitangi Day a complete waste' in the Weekend Herald 11/2. I appreciate that this is an opinion piece, and thus held to different standards than most reporting, and that under freedom of speech you are entitled to publish even pieces that could reasonably be called ignorant and stupid. Nonetheless, Holmes's piece has crossed into hate speech, in that he is inspiring tensions between Māori and Pākehā by extrapolating, from one small protest against a particular act of government, a racially driven conspiracy by the former against the latter. This goes past any protection afforded to the press - no amount of balancing views or public agreement with this sentiment can excuse this incitement against racial tensions. I ask for an apology by Holmes and your paper, and to have the piece retracted or suitably modified.

The part I want to draw your special attention to is this declaration:

"No, if Maori want Waitangi Day for themselves, let them have it. Let them go and raid a bit more kai moana than they need for the big, and feed themselves silly, speak of the injustices heaped upon them by the greedy Pakeha and work out new ways of bamboozling the Pakeha to come up with a few more millions."

On the face of it, this is straightforwardly race-baiting. Holmes has called for New Zealand as a whole to abandon celebrating what is now the national day in order to distance ourselves from an offensive party, that party being Māori. The only possible defence for this would be if Holmes meant the Māori protesters he highlighted earlier, but that reading simply isn't available. Firstly, there is no qualification in this declaration - those he rails against are indicated simply as Māori. Secondly, placing this quote in context does not help at all. In order to motivate his dismissal of the protestor's claims, he runs through a litany of societal ills that Māori face. I won't go into the accuracy of his claims, and noting only in passing that the inflammatory fashion Holmes does this in is already grounds for a valid complaint: calling Māori a race of child-abusers who don't educate their children is beyond the pale, but that is exactly what Holmes does. I'll pass those serious worries by and indicate another one - that Holmes's case on the protesters is conditional on them being Māori, otherwise these complaints simply wouldn't make sense. This means he discriminates against the protesters on the grounds of their ethnicity - Holmes finds the protests objectionable in part because the protesters are Māori, and has used your paper for his racially charged invective. This is unacceptable, and it demands you immediate action.

There is a more subtle bigotry at work here as well. Holmes proposes that Anzac Day take the place of Waitangi Day. But presumably Holmes is unworried by the fact that a great many ANZAC soldiers have, acting as ANZAC soldiers, performed heinous misdeeds - the massacre at Sarafand being a clear example - and that it would be easy to find examples of child abusers, terrible parenting, and similar ills among the ranks of the soldiers he lionises. To hold the heritage of the Anzacs hostage to the misdeeds of the few would be abusive muckraking. But that is exactly what Holmes wants us to do with Māori and Waitangi Day - because of what he believes is a lunatic fringe, we should stop celebrating this moment where Māori and Pākehā were united into one nation. Because Holmes has claimed that Māori membership in the spirit or identity of New Zealand is contingent (i.e. contingent on addressing certain social ills as a group), whereas that of his Pākehā great-uncles isn't similarly hostage to the misdeeds of their fellow Anzacs, he is discriminating against Māori because they are Māori. Again, this is the type of racism for which there is no place in our society, and which you have every duty to stamp out immediately and decisively.

I will not burden you with a discussion on most of the content of the piece, though none of it reflects well on Holmes. Monday I submitted a letter to the editor through the usual channels, but I have supplemented it with this complaint in order to ensure that the matter came to your attention. I am not passing a comment on the material you have published. I am accusing your paper of gross misjudgement in giving a platform for incitement to racial tension and discrimination, and demand that you give this and similar complaints attention appropriate to the seriousness of the matter at hand.

Yours sincerely,
Marinus Ferreira

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