A complaint against a much-read – and discussed - article about immigration has been upheld by the Press Council.
The opinion piece by journalist Duncan Garner entitled ‘Dear New Zealand, how do we want to look in 20 years?’ was published on Stuff and The Dominion Post on 7 October 2017. In it, Mr Garner discussed a visit to Kmart, using his observations of the people standing in the checkout line to comment on immigration policy.
Mr Garner’s article includes the paragraph: “The self-service counter could not cope. It couldn’t cope with the pressures of the people. The dozens of stressed faces making up the human snake were frustrated too. I looked around, it could have been anywhere in South East Asia. I wasn’t shocked – we have reported this for three years – we have targeted immigrants, opened the gates and let in record numbers. This year’s net gain of migrants was 72,000. Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Syrians, and many others. I saw the changing face of New Zealand at the crossroads, otherwise known as Kmart’s self-service counter.”
Eliza Prestidge Oldfield complained that the article suggests immigration is a concern because the migrants are from those countries. She points out that if the article wanted to avoid a racist subtext particular minority groups should not have been singled out.
The Dominion Post editor, Bernadette Courtney, said the column was clearly labelled as an opinion piece. She acknowledged the content may not sit well with some readers but defended the right to present a variety of views.
The Council’s decision noted that the “actual drivers of population growth are more complex than that. It is only in the last three years that India and China were the top two countries of origin for New Zealand migrants, and in any event, these countries are not generally included in the popular understanding of ‘South East Asia’.”
The decision said a majority of the Council noted the article singled out migrants from particular countries which are actually the source of relatively few migrants.
“Mr Garner has inaccurately targeted a group of migrants in a way that leads the reader to infer that these groups are driving the poor outcomes for all New Zealanders that Mr Garner outlines. Immigration data, however, tells a more complex story. In presenting the data as Mr Garner did, the reader is led to make inferences that the “blame” for New Zealanders’ poor outcomes and standard of living lies with a targeted group of migrants.”
The Council members upholding the complaint concluded that this case went beyond what they deemed acceptable for freedom of expression.
The complaint was upheld by a majority of five members with four dissenting.
The four members of the Press Council who dissented said while the column was unpleasant, they were reluctant to limit freedom of expressions on any opinion.