Friday, January 26, 2024

My little spat with Philip Matthews

The news and comment website Newsroom published an article yesterday in which Philip Matthews reviewed a new and slightly revised edition of Michael King's celebrated Penguin History of New Zealand. (Matthews is a Christchurch-based Stuff journalist who occasionally contributes to Newsroom.)

The review was entitled History is a culture war and looked at how well King's book - now The Penguin History of Aotearoa New Zealand - had stood up in a time of rapidly shifting cultural and ideological attitudes. Matthews devoted part of his piece to the use of the name Aotearoa and commented that several "right-wing culture figures" - he named Peter Williams,  Michael Bassett and me - had "enlisted King as support for their argument that New Zealand should not become Aotearoa".

This would be all very well, except that I've never said New Zealand shouldn’t become Aotearoa and don't recall ever citing King in that context. My position,  stated several times over the years, is that I'm open to a name change just as long as it's supported by a referendum - in other words, democratically mandated, rather than imposed by a political/media/academic elite.

When I emailed Matthews requesting a correction, he tried to defend himself by citing an article I had written for The Spectator Australia in which I noted that Aotearoa was a name of "dubious authenticity". When I pointed out that this fell a long way short of opposing its adoption, Matthews astonishingly responded by saying my position made it hard to argue that I supported a name change. So now, apparently, it wasn't just a case of me being accused of opposing a name change (although I hadn't); I had apparently flunked the ideological test by failing to support it.

Except that even this wasn't correct, because I've written on this blog that "there are good arguments for adopting Aotearoa".

At about this point, Matthews lost interest in the argument and suggested I sort it out with Newsroom - a cowardly cop-out,  since the mistake was his, not Newsroom's. They had quite reasonably assumed that a senior journalist would take care to get his facts right.

I did take it up with Newsroom,  and to their great credit they immediately amended the article and added a footnote saying the original version had not accurately reflected my opinion. Though the correction didn't quite capture my position (it said I would accept a name change if the public voted for it, but implied I would do so grudgingly), I appreciated co-editor Tim Murphy's prompt remedial action.

Why am I recounting this?  Partly because some people will have seen Matthews' piece in its original form and been left with the wrong impression; but also to illustrate the danger of ideologically motivated journalists letting their prejudices get in the way of accuracy.  Personal antipathy may have played a part, since Matthews and I have a history. I think it suited him to characterise me, along with Peter Williams and Michael Bassett,  as a stubborn old white supremacist.  He's a capable journalist and I suspect in this instance,  he was more than simply careless.  


R Singers said...

I would agree with you that any name change should be put to a referendum.

The one pro I see for changing is that it would put as near the top of eCommerce country drop downs.

The con tho, is what does it say about us as a country when we see our national identity as something that is a largely a fiction popularized by the editors of the School Journal? As part of adopting the name can we also shed the mistaken belief that we bat above our weight internationally and acknowledge we're a small and childish state.

Jordan Heathcote said...

The profession of Journalism has more or less become a bully pulpit for these goofs to punch down at the uncultured in many ways.

I personally speculate that there has been a substantial shift in the attitudes of journalists and editors in the face of the changing technological pressure on the industry. The lowered price of distribution which broke the media's monopoly on information, decreasing number of journalists and shortening news cycle has incentivised the evolution of newspapers into clickbait (stuff), paywall (odt/herald) or corporate mouthpiece (spinoff).

Another factor, the rise of dissent and alternative discourse has deeply troubled the journalist class. The Journalist, like the Priest to Rousseau/Voltaire, was and is a gatekeeper of information who decides how to spin and set an issue of the masses. There was and largely still is no recourse if you are slandered or lied about by a journalist, they do not provide their sources and are free to editorialise for an agenda. The push back from social media prior to the mass censorship era (2007 - 2016) broken the journalist class as it broke the top down, one way communication style.

The exceptionally censored internet which exists today is also breaking journalism because people simply won't engage and won't spend money to be lied to. The endless consent building by journalists of 'third party fact checkers', the 'epidemic' of disinformation and misinformation, the punching down at the proles (who remembers the utter disdain to the parliamentary protestors in February 2022?). It seems to reflect a demographic shift in media away from journalism being a working class profession to being the profession of the rich and decadent. Just a few examples:

- Thomas Manch's father is the CEO of CAA/Avsec (Keith Manch)
- Gianina Schwanecke is the daughter of a specialist surgeon (Dr Konrad Schwanecke)
- Marc Daalder is the child of an exceptionally influential US academic who served in the Clinton and Obama administration (Ivo Daalder)
- Sam Hurley is the child of a specialist veterniarian (Dr Michael Hurley)

The result seems to be a profession only allows the children of the rich and powerful to express their opinions at the readership. I look forward to future layoffs.

Anonymous said...

I’m not in favour of changing the name of our country to Aotearoa because it looks too similar to the word “Australia”. If you open up a Word document and type both names side by side, you’ll see what I mean.

And yes - I have no problems telling “Australia” and “Austria” apart either, but these two countries are far apart on a map of the world - Australia and New Zealand, not so much. Many of us already are already concerned that our two national flags are too much alike; how would we like to further complicate matters by having a similar looking name as well?

But I am a democrat, and if the majority of New Zealanders vote to change the nation’s name to Aotearoa in a referendum, then I will accept that decision.

Jade Warrior

Birdman said...

What a great comment Jordan and how often do we now hear how the MSM is held in such distain.

On your statement "the punching down at the proles (who remembers the utter disdain to the parliamentary protestors in February 2022?)". I believe this was another watershed where many New Zealanders forever changed their view of Ardern and with her, the media. It was a watershed moment like the '81 Springbox Tour, where again many more New Zealanders changed their positions forever. Such as how they viewed various NZ institutions like the Police, the NZRU of course and also found out about what apartheid really was and our need to stand against it as a country.

Maybe the Treaty debate will be the next watershed moment that also strengthen us as a country.

ihcpcoro said...

'Proud Aotearoan' doesn't quite have the same ring to it, for this old deaf bugger.

Steve Plowman said...

I can't say I'm surprised in the least that you were labelled in this manner, Karl. What a sad indictment upon how biased things have become within the media. This sort of thing has become stock and trade for a disgruntled media. You only need to listen to Radio NZ's Morning Report to hear the barely-concealed contempt in Ingrid Hipkins' voice about anyone who has a differing opinion to her on matters pertaining to the Treaty of Waitangi or anything else with a Maori focus. A good majority of the media (and academia) seem to have taken a fixed position on all things Maori and anyone who dares to disagree with their particular 'bent' on these issues is characterised as far right, an old white man or racist (or all three in some instances!). Several years ago, I wrote a letter to the Sunday Star-Times (which they published) predicting that the day was fast approaching where anyone wishing to question the Treaty of Waitangi and how it was being interpreted would be labelled "racist" by those with a vested interest in seeing that their interpretation became enshrined within government institutions, schools and the media. Sadly, it gives me no pleasure to note that I may have been right. I guess there's a first for everything...

hughvane said...

The term Aotearoa has been discredited for decades as being doubtful it was ever said, or adopted, by Maori.

My interpretation of its origins - which you have previously declined to publish (freedom of speech?) - is, I Ate A Toheroa.

It is every bit as feasible as the legendary name.

We NZ'ers live in New Zealand, and if the precious of any racial persuasion wish, we can rename it Niu Zild (pronunciation), or Noofalaka, or some other invention.

Anonymous said...

Matthews is a tosspot.

Punch said...

This is Peter Williams.
While I am flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence as Messers du Fresne and Bassett, I do confess to one day during my time in talkback radio quoting from Michael King's book on the matter of Aotearoa and its origin. Why not? As is noted, it is one of the best selling New Zealand publications of all time and that it still sells today is a reflection of its quality, research and scholarship. I seem to remember that particular day's show - and it was probably in 2020 or 2021 - being a discussion about the ever increasing use of the word by left wing political figures, academia and the media and about how there almost seemed to be a campaign to change the name of the country by stealth. I also remember stating, unequivocally and on more than one occasion, that if the government wished to ask the people about a name change for the country, then I would be more than happy to accept the will of the people. After all, we wouldn't have to stay up so late to watch our Olympic team march in the opening ceremony!

Punch said...

Me again.
From Matthews on Newsroom:
"Earlier in the book, King writes that if any chapter in New Zealand history deserved to be called a “holocaust”, it was the musket wars. If this sounds puzzling in 2023, it’s because King was clearly having a crack at Tariana Turia who was forced to apologise for calling colonisation a holocaust in 2000. In doing so, he sounds eerily close to those who argue that Māori-on-Māori violence was worse than anything Pākehā ever did. You only have to scratch the surface of arguments about the new history curriculum to hear that one.
These views have, as they say, not aged well. Would King have changed his mind about these ideas? Possibly."

I doubt very much that King would have changed his mind on the musket wars. Research subsequent to King by Ron Crosby has shown that Maori death in inter-iwi battles was considerably more than in the wars of the 1860s. If the views of King "have not aged well" it is because of the ideology of the reviewer who struggles to believe that inter-iwi rivalry could have been more destructive than that inflicted on Maori by the British.

Eamon Sloan said...

You might have started a name calling debate here Karl. You said you had “written on this blog that there are good arguments for adopting Aotearoa". I can’t think what those arguments might be.

I followed up on Philip Matthews’ Newsroom piece and my mind was made up for me. That the whole Aotearoa farrago should be given a decent burial well out of sight, here and now, today.

It will be a brave political party that tries to put us through the rigmarole and hurly-burly of a name referendum. A name change to what purpose? What happened to John Key’s flag referendum? When or if Australia gets around to changing the name of New South Wales then I might think about a change here. Nova Scotia (New Scotland) could go the same way. If there is to be an NZ name change I would want something other than Aotearoa.

The Geographic Board will soon be considering a Maori trust proposal to change the name of Petone. I have been researching the matter and will be making a submission when the time comes. My arguments, plural, will be for retaining Petone, as it is and has been since 1888. All of that does not make me a Maori language apologist. When it comes to place names the Board seems to name and rename on demand, no questions asked. God forbid the Geographic Board should ever have the power to rename New Zealand.

Anonymous said...

Following on from Peter Williams comment re use of the word Holocaust. Too often the word's meaning is corrupted and diminished. I had always thought that the word should be used only as a memorial and direct reference to the actual event. Memo: Per one of my calendars, today (Jan 27) is actually International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

transpress nz said...

Philip Matthews has been an ideological bigot throughout his career in journalism, which goes back about 30 years, making ill-founded assumptions, displaying wilful ignorance and an inability to comprehend what people are really saying. He will readily pick fights with people he doesn't like because of what he thinks they are saying and he's been rebuked for it numerous times; you're far from the first to have a spat with him.

Spiro Zavos said...

On page 29 of the latest edition and new name of his The Penguin History Of Aotearoa New Zealand, Michael King writes: 'In fact, in the pre-European Era, Maori had no name for the country as a whole. Polynesian ancestors came from motu or islands, and it was to islands that they gave names ... A small number of tribes knew the island (the North Island) as Aotea (though this was also the name given to Great Barrier Island) and as Aotearoa, most commonly translated, as in the Kupe story, as Land of the Long White Cloud, but perhaps more properly rendered as Land of the Long Clear Day or Long White World ...'

I think it is time to end the Bi-Racial metaphor of New Zealand and adopt a more relevant metaphor of New Zealand or Aoteroa New Zealand (if a referendum approves this name), using a concept developed by the Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson for Australia, of Maori/Settler/Immigrant, as the determinants of the making of the continuous New Zealand or Aoteroa experiment.

- Spiro Zavos

Vaughan said...

Why not strike a note of harmony with Australia and suggest they revert to their old name:
New Holland?

We could remain New Zealand and not have to change our stationery.

Hilary Taylor said...

Fascinating comments. People get grumpy when they think they're cornered? If I think he isn't grinding an axe I'll read him.
I used to like 'lifeboat aotearoa', when it really was a lifeboat. Still is for us greysters but not for our kids' gen. Our kids at 30ish still don't own a home. And no do they look like procreating, much to the ma's sorrow. The birth rate is a problem that should be discussed far more.
I like EnZed. I'd be sorry to lose NZ as one's visual acuity for seeking "Z" in a column of words will

Tom Hunter said...

Heh. When I did course in NZ History inn the late 1980's the course book was Kieth Sinclair's History of New Zealand, which might be even less acceptable than Kings.

BTW, I do have to chuckle at the following:

I think it suited him to characterise me, along with Peter Williams and Michael Bassett, as a stubborn old white supremacist.

Well, you should see what the Anarcho-Communist, "Bomber" Bradbury has to say about you over on The Daily Blog as a result of your criticism of the Precious St. John Campbell the other day. But then you probably don't take any notice of such obscure dickheads. I refer to Bradbury as The Screaming Beard because he writes as if he's chanting through a megaphone at the head of a protest.

Karl du Fresne said...

Tom Hunter,
I spend my days quivering with anxiety at what Bradbury might be saying about me.

Eamon Sloan said...

I have never followed Mr Bradbury’s blog. Had a quick look just now. All I can say is what most right-thinking commenters would say: If you have to make a point by means of vulgarisms and obscenities such as that word beginning with the sixth letter of the alphabet then the argument has been lost.

Anonymous said...

Back in 1840 Maori used Niu Tirini as their version of New Zealand. It was in the 1890's that a couple of English settlers made up the name Aotearoa. Their names were Percy Reeves and somebody Smith.
As someone who has collection of books about our history (many written in the 1800's) I find it interesting how our history has evolved.

Anonymous said...

Hi peter
As a journalist with a keen interest in sport, I wonder what you make of tvnz’s coverage of the Black Caps - South Africa series.
For one thing, their Black Caps graphic only has the Maori name as its backdrop. Not New Zealand.
Then, when a wicket falls, ‘WIKITI’ flashes on the screen.
Then in shots of the ground only the Maori flag is shown in closeups. Never the NZ colours we are familiar with.
It would be interesting to learn who made this policy — was it a govt directive, a tvnz executive decision and therefore official tvnz policy or by a backroom producer acting beyond their pay grade?
These days, it feels like other nz cultures are deliberately being erased by some national institutions (taxpayer funded).

Anonymous said...

A small correction, Tariana Turia's totally inappropriate 'holocaust' reference was in relation to Parihaka where, reputedly, one small boy got a hurt foot from the treading by a horse.

On Aotearoa, why spend the better part of two centuries building a world renown brand to go to oblivion? How stupid is that?

swordfish said...

Yep ... that's essentially my position too ... quite like the name 'Aotearoa' but only favour a change if a majority of New Zealanders do ... not imposed by an elitist minority of narcissistic Woke dogmatists suffering from a thoroughly deluded sense of moral & intellectual superiority.

Recent polling on the issue:

TV1 Colmar Brunton poll (Sep 2021)

Support a name change to Aotearoa ?:

9% of all respondents
7% of Euro/Pakeha
21% of Maori.

Support double-barreled Aotearoa-New Zealand ?:

31% of all respondents
31% of Euro/Pakeha
37% of Maori

Support remaining with New Zealand ?:

58% of all respondents
61% of Euro/Pakeha
41% of Maori

Sticking with New Zealand held first place in all demographics except Green voters [double-barreled Ao-NZ 48%, Ao 29%, stick with NZ 22%] and Pasifikas [double-barreled Ao-NZ 56%, stick with NZ 33%, Ao 10%]

Sticking with NZ:
ACT voters 81%
National voters 74%
Labour voters 49%
Green voters 22%

Newshub Reid Research poll (Jan 2023)

(Results for Entire Sample)

Change to Aotearoa 9.6%
Change to double-barreled Aotearoa-New Zealand 36.2%
Remain New Zealand 52%