BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Vercoe and Te Aratuku Whakaata Irirangi Māori - 2022-106 (20 December 2022)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
  • Paul Vercoe


[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a broadcast of Artefact was unbalanced. The complainant alleged the programme’s description of events in the New Zealand Wars did not include the historical perspectives of settlers and the government. However, the Authority held that while the reasons for and nature of the New Zealand Wars (and associated events) are of public importance, these issues are not ‘controversial’ in the manner contemplated under the balance standard.

Not Upheld: Balance

The broadcast

[1]  On 31 July 2022, the second episode of the second series of Artefact was broadcast. The programme explored the perspectives of several New Zealanders on the New Zealand Wars. These included Dame Anne Salmond, Associate Professor Dr Tom Roa, artist Sally Burton, Archbishop Phillip Richardson, and Wharehoka Wano, the Tumu Whakarito (Chief Executive) of Te Kāhui o Taranaki Trust among others.

[2]  The programme was introduced as follows:

In 1861, Governor Grey ordered a new road to be built, which quickly forged south into the heart of the Waikato. It was called the Great South Road. This is still a key pathway in Auckland, home to diverse communities, most of whom have no idea that this road is an artefact of war. Governor Grey built his south road to carry thousands of British and colonial troops into the Waikato. This hand-drawn map shows its course through a very rich country, marking the Māori trading paths and villages on the way. Grey gave this map a name that was truer to his intentions. He called it the seat of war.

When you hear the term Great South Road, the first thing that comes to mind is the raupatu. The forcible taking of our lands, our lives, our livelihoods. The seat of war. You could play with that title quite a bit. Whose seat and whose war? Certainly wasn't our war. It was forced on us. And yet our tūpuna were described as rebels. It's heartbreaking. 

The complaint

[3]  Paul Vercoe complained that the broadcast breached the balance standard of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand. He provided detailed submissions in support of his complaint, which included the following key arguments:

  • The programme represented the Great South Road as built for the sole purpose of ‘invasion’ or to ‘take lands’ rather than the need to ‘protect Auckland from a feared attack’, failing to address the apparent intention of Waikato iwi to attack Auckland, after Russell had been attacked by other iwi in years prior.
  • The programme did not include information regarding the intentions and nature of the Kīngitanga movement.
  • The programme did not examine the reasons for the various Crown actions portrayed, discuss the Suppression of Rebellion Act 1863 (or the background to it) or examine the contribution cultural misunderstandings may have had on events.  
  • The programme did not discuss Te Rauparaha’s role in the musket wars and stated that he would not want to sell any land when he had already sold some land.
  • The perspectives of settlers who formed a militia in Taranaki were not conveyed, including the fact that some became refugees.
  • A notice by Grey was described in ‘emotive’ words.
  • There were a number of inaccuracies, including:
    (a)  Some details of the warfare such as people being burned inside their houses were not entirely accurate.
    (b)  An interviewee stated ‘that in a Māori context war was ultimately a means to peace’
    (c)   Descriptions of land sales by Māori (particularly in Taranaki) were not accurate.
    (d)  The settler’s shelters were misleadingly portrayed.
  • ‘Dame Anne Salmond, and presumably many of those involved with the programme, are well versed in New Zealand’s history but have chosen to portray the events in the programme with a strong bias against the Crown and the settlers. The lack of balance is so strong that one must assume that it has been done intentionally. To broadcast our history in this manner is completely unacceptable.’
  • The programme was not clearly signalled as approaching the issue from a particular perspective.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  Whakaata Māori did not uphold Vercoe’s complaint for the following key reasons:

  • The programme was clearly focused on a particular perspective of events in the New Zealand Wars. It was not claiming to be a balanced examination of the issue and was narrowly focused on one aspect of a larger debate.
  • ‘an issue will not be controversial for the purposes of this standard simply because some continue to hold alternate views about it. In this respect, the fact that [the complainant] appears to have a contrary view to Dame Anne Salmond and other expert authorities, as well as to what has been recognised by the Crown in Treaty settlements, is not determinative of a controversy.’
  • Sources referred to by the complainant are ‘outdated and no longer accepted by the Crown as authoritative today.’

[5]  We note the broadcaster also addressed the complainant’s concerns under the accuracy standard. While this complaint arguably concerns issues of accuracy, the complainant did not raise this standard in his initial complaint and has explicitly stated in further submissions that he only wishes to have his complaint considered under the balance standard. We will determine this complaint only in relation to the balance standard.

The standard

[6]  The balance standard1 ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.2 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.3

Our analysis

[7]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[8]  As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh up the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.4

[9]  The first question for the Authority is whether the balance standard applied to this broadcast of Artefact. A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The relevant broadcast must:

  • be a ‘news, current affairs or factual programme’
  • discuss a ‘controversial issue of public importance’ (the subject matter must be an issue of ‘public importance,’ it must be ‘controversial,’ and it must be ‘discussed’).5

[10]  Artefact is a factual, documentary-style programme, so we are satisfied the first requirement is met.

[11]  With regard to the second limb of the test, the issue the complainant alleges was not presented in a balanced way can, at a high level, be summarised as the reasons for and nature of the New Zealand Wars (and associated events).

[12]  We are satisfied this issue is of public importance, as such matters have had generational impacts for many Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand.6 We are also satisfied this issue was ‘discussed’ in the programme, as multiple personal perspectives of relevant events were provided.

[13]  However, we do not believe that the reasons for and nature of the New Zealand Wars (and associated events) are ‘controversial’. It is in the nature of history that some may continue to research and challenge aspects of historical events and their causes. However, as we have previously found:7

…while a historic event may be of great public interest at the time and may continue to be of historical interest, the later discussion or analysis of such an event will not necessarily be considered a controversial issue of public importance.

We consider that this reasoning applies in this instance as well. On this basis, the balance standard did not apply and the requirement for balancing comment was not triggered

[14]  Finally, we also recognise the significant value in sharing different perspectives on historical events (and the perspectives of Māori in particular whose voices many argue have been missing from previously accepted historical narrative).8

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Susie Staley
20 December 2022    




The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1  Paul Vercoe's formal complaint to Whakaata Māori - 24 August 2022

2  Whakaata Māori's decision on the complaint - 29 August 2022

3  Vercoe's referral to the Authority - 13 September 2022

4  Vercoe's further submissions on referral - 21 September 2022

5  Whakaata Māori's further comments - 10 October 2022

6  Vercoe's final comments - 15 October 2022

7  Whakaata Māori confirming no further comments - 24 October 2022

1 Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
2 Commentary, Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 14
3 Guideline 5.1
4 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
5 Guideline 5.1
6 Te Ara | The Encyclopedia of New Zealand “New Zealand Wars - Long-term impact” (accessed 25 November 2022) <>; The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pākanga Whenua O Mua “Consequences” (accessed 25 November 2022) <>
7 Lee and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2017-088 at [13]; Lee and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2016-044 at [19]; Stubbs and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2019-049 at [14]
8 Don Rowe “Difficult history: How we remember – and forget – the New Zealand Wars” The Spinoff (online ed, 2 May 2022); “Leading historian Vincent O’Malley discusses The New Zealand Wars” RNZ (online ed, 27 October 2019); The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pākanga Whenua O Mua “Māori Historians of the Wars” (accessed 1 December 2022) <>