How much longer will the political and media elites persist with their extraordinary arrogance in referring to New Zealand as Aotearoa?
We have now, in the space of two weeks, seen two reputable polls showing conclusively that the majority of New Zealanders prefer the status quo, and by a very substantial margin.
First there was the Curia poll, commissioned by the lobby group Hobson’s Pledge, in which 39 per cent of respondents were “strongly” opposed to a name change and nearly 10 per cent were “somewhat” opposed, making a total of 49 per cent in favour of keeping things as they are.
Against that, 18.4 per cent "strongly" favoured Aotearoa and a further 9.7 per cent were “somewhat” in support, with 22 per cent of respondents neutral. That’s a decisive majority – 49-28 – who want no change.
No doubt there were aggrieved supporters of a name change who pooh-poohed the findings because (a) the poll was commissioned by a group opposed to the change and (b) Curia was formerly the National Party’s pollster and is therefore associated in some people’s minds with the centre-Right.
But hang on a minute. TVNZ last night reported a 1News Colmar Brunton poll that found even stronger public opposition to the adoption of Aotearoa.
Asked “What do you think the country should be called?”, 58 per cent of respondents said New Zealand.
1News put its own slant on the findings by then saying that 41 per cent “opted for Aotearoa to be in the mix”. But in fact only 9 per cent – I repeat, 9 per cent – wanted New Zealand renamed Aotearoa.
That's only half as many as in the Curia result. Of the rest, 31 per cent took an each-way bet, preferring "Aotearoa New Zealand".
These figures should put the naming issue to bed once and for all, but don’t expect that to happen. The elites will continue using the inauthentic name Aotearoa because they are contemptuous of public opinion. The saddest part of this for me is that the poll results confirm the news media have completely lost touch with the society they purport to serve.
Notwithstanding the above, I remain more or less neutral on the naming issue. There are good arguments both ways. But the bottom line, as long as we continue to maintain that this is a democracy, is that the people should decide.
An exception can be made for privately owned news organisations, which are entitled to use whatever nomenclature they choose. This is a free society, after all. But they should realise that in calling New Zealand Aotearoa they risk alienating the viewers, listeners and readers who keep them afloat.
For publicly owned media such as TVNZ and RNZ, however, a different rule applies. I believe they have a clear moral obligation to respect the views of the people who provide their funding and to whom they remain accountable.
That means referring to this country by its official, recognised name. To do otherwise, in defiance of two credible opinion polls that clearly show what the people want, is a calculated insult to public opinion.
Addendum: The Dominion Post published the following letter from me yesterday:
Thomas Manch devoted a substantial article to the Aotearoa name change debate (“Name debate bubbles away”, Sept 27) but strangely omitted one very significant piece of information.
In a Curia poll released this month, 49 per cent of respondents opposed changing New Zealand’s name – 39 per cent “strongly” and 9 per cent “somewhat”.
Against that, 18 per cent “strongly” and nearly 10 per cent “somewhat” supported Aotearoa. Slightly more than 20 per cent of respondents were neutral.
The poll was conducted early in September and surveyed 1000 people.
It was commissioned by the lobby group Hobson’s Pledge, which strongly opposes a name change. Some would argue that this undermines the poll’s credibility, but Curia is a reputable research company and unlikely to compromise its reputation by producing a dodgy result.
In any case, the media – including Stuff – frequently report on political polls carried out by UMR, which is the Labour Party’s pollster. This makes it puzzling that the Curia poll – the only one, to my knowledge, that has recently surveyed public opinion on this highly contentious issue – appears to have had no publicity whatsoever.
I left it to Dom Post readers to form their own conclusions about why Thomas Manch, a senior Stuff political reporter, failed to mention the Curia poll, which was painstakingly ignored by all the media.