Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mike Butler: Grievance history and the press

For those who question continued complaints about the “wicked white coloniser” in the mainstream media, the abridged letter published below shows the difficulties a reader had in getting his response to misleading claims by other letter writers in a provincial newspaper.

It became clear to the reader that the long delay in publishing his response to an opinion column that contained untrue assertions that that the intent of the newspaper was not to publish his criticism, so he sent an e-mail to the editor which to his great surprise produced results.
Dear editor 
I am disappointed in having to write to you. I wrote two letters to the Editor in reply to letters by one letter-writing columnist (14 Jan) and another letter writer (16 Jan) both of which attacked me for my historical understanding of the battle of Te Ranga, both were also disparaging of historian James Cowan. It seems that my replies are not to be published. 
In both letters I did refer to the letter-writing columnist’s outrageous claim of a massacre that never happened at the Battle of Rangiaowhia. 
That person was and still is a columnist with the newspaper and used his column to make this claim. He claimed that it was told to him by a relative via whakapapa (oral history).
He claimed that “General Cameron rode into Rangioawhia rounded up all the Maori, locked them into the church, set fire to it, and anybody that tried to escape was shot, and 144 Maori were burnt to death”. 
Although no historian gives any credence to this claim, this letter-writing columnist’s biggest problem was that both the churches that were there at the battle are still there today. 
That columnist then tried to re-work his claim only digging himself in deeper. 
My main complaint about this letter-writing columnist’s is that he never conceded he was wrong and never apologised to readers or to the Cameron family. 
He said it was “white man's history and he would paper his walls with it”. 
This letter-writing columnist’s claims demonstrate the unreliability of oral history and thus his major involvement in The Gate Pa Exhibition undermines its credibility. 
I would not like to think that you believe that it is somehow unfair to hold this letter-writing columnist to account or that you are protecting one of your columnists from criticism. 
I accept that you do have right to print, decline and abridge letters but I wish to point out that the New Zealand Press Council principle 12 on letters states: 
”Selection and treatment of letters for publication are the prerogative of editors who are to be guided by fairness, balance, and public interest in the correspondents' views”. 
If my letters are not to be published and the this letter-writing columnist’s and other correspondent’s letters are allowed to stand without my right-of-reply then a balanced view of history is not being presented and therefore I would feel you are not meeting press council standards.
After such prodding the letter was published, thus:
The letter writer (January 16) seems to be relying on the Gate Pa exhibition for his views of history. 
Yes, I have seen the exhibition and was impressed by the concept and the effort of the organisers, but to have the letter-writing columnist involved in its presentation undermines its credibility, as it was that letter-writing columnist who claimed a monstrous massacre at the Battle of Rangiaowhia that never happened. 
Historians James Cowan, Nigel Prickett, Michael King, James Belich and Ranginui Walker give no credence to his claim. 
It also shows the unreliability of so-called oral history, it being little more than stories that alter and are embellished over time. 
The letter writer asserts that James Cowan is a “discredited source” by unnamed “mainstream historians”. 
Perhaps he may care to name them with appropriate references. 
Rawiri Puhirake was not defending his land as claimed by the letter writer. 
The Bay of Plenty had been at peace for some 20 years and t here were no threats to Ngaiterangi land from the British until he challenged them to fight him and lost.
The lesson is anyone unhappy with a paper's response can and should complain.

1 comment:

Glenn G said...

I am assuming that he has checked to make sure that one of the churches was not rebuilt after the alleged fire. If they were never burnt down at any stage, then it is another scam by the editor to edit the letter in such a way as to hide the truth of the matter. just another lie !!!! When will NZ wake up to the endless lies that will rip this country apart.