Kaipara mayor Craig Jepson has been labelled a 'racist' by his political opponents. But is he simply expressing a contrary view not in accordance with the views held by the liberal elite who prevail in government and media organisations like TVNZ and Radio New Zealand? 

THE STATE MEDIA, TVNZ and RNZ, have predictably found Kaipara mayor Craig Jepson guilty of illiberalism and racism and he has no right of appeal. He has been charged and convicted in what has amounted to a media kangaroo court. If we are to accept the tenor and framing of the news reports from both TVNZ and RNZ about Jepson's decision not to allow Maori ward councillor Pera Paniora to say a prayer or karakia at the beginning of a council meeting, Jepson is simply an unreconstructed redneck. He would probably be well on his way to being cancelled about now but he's a mayor with some authority so the best that can be done is to give his credibility a good kicking. This little vendetta probably though won't assist either TVNZ or RNZ  bring a halt to the slow decline in their audience figures which, says Minister of Broadcasting Willie Jackson, is one of the principal reasons they are being merged. 

One News tweeted its six o'clock news story on the issue and captioned it with the description of Jepson as 'racist, bullish and rude'. This view isn't actually contained in the news story itself, that was inserted by whoever is responsible for TVNZ's Twitter account. But these are days when it isn't enough for TVNZ to report the news - it also wants to tell us what we should think about the news as well. The story isn't always necessarily the priority, especially when it comes to anything concerning Maori. The ideological narrative that accompanies the story is equally, if not more, important. It's all part of what Breakfast presenter and ex-netballer Jenny-May Clarkson has described as 'the journey' - and we're all apparently on it whether we like it or not.

As Jepson is clearly a wrong thinker and not down with the sensibilities of the comfortably well-off liberal elite housed in organisations like TVNZ and RNZ, he must be suitably punished. What is ostensibly a RNZ news story on the council meeting fracas, manages to make Jepson look like some old political dinosaur, blocking change.

The slant is obvious. The story reports that 'Craig Jepson interrupted councillor Pera Paniora several times this week when she tried to start a hui in te reo Maori.'  If the task is to smear Jepson as a racist then that's how you SHOULD report the incident. But anyone who has seen the video of the council meeting concerned would have watched Paniora interrupting Jepson several times as he tried to progress the council meeting. But that interpretation doesn't suit RNZ. 

Missing in both TVNZ and RNZ's loaded coverage is any real discussion or consideration of Jepson's legitimate view that council meetings should not be led in prayer - of whatever particular religious flavour. That's the point he has expressed and is sticking to. We, after all, live in a secular society and the Kaipara mayor is simply acting on that basis. Suggestions in the social media especially that he has more unsavoury motivations are, without any facts to accompany such allegations, little more than attempts at character assassination. We have been down this road before in the social media.

I'm reminded of something that American journalist Matt Taibbi said recently about the US mainstream media: 'It’s now less important for reporters to be accurate than 'directionally' correct, which in 'centre-left mainstream' media mostly comes down to having the right views.' I think we're at that stage in the New Zealand mainstream media as well.

While the supporters of karakia might argue that Jepson is denying them a traditional Maori custom - which it is - its also undeniably a religious practice. Wikipedia says ' Karakia are Maori incantations and prayers, used to invoke spiritual guidance and protection. They are generally used to increase the spiritual goodwill of a gathering, so as to increase the likelihood of a favourable outcome.' According to reports the karakia that Paniora read out was lifted from the Bible: ‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’ 2 Cor. 13:14.

Secularism says that people are free to practice their religion, including what could be generally described as Maori spirituality, but it also says that people have the right not to have beliefs and practices forced upon them which they do not support. While the focus has been on Jepson blocking Pera Paniora's attempt at a karakia, little has been said about her assumption that she had the right to impose her religious views on the council meeting. As someone with no religious beliefs whatsoever I personally would have objected to Paniora assuming I was okay with praying to a god I don't believe in.


  1. But anyone who has seen the video of the council meeting concerned would of watched Paniora interrupting Jepson several times as he tried to progress the council meeting. But that interpretation doesn't suit RNZ.
    Grammar demands 'would have watched'; never 'would of watched'.

  2. Craig Jepson is right to defend civic occasions against the intrusion of religion.
    Whether his treatment of Pera Paniora was right or wrong depends on the content of her karakia. If, as you report, it was a prayer invoking Jesus, God and Holy Spirit, then no matter what language she used she is being culturally unsound, and insulting non-Christian members of the council and audience. If, however, the content of her karakia was nonreligious, then it is Jepson who is being culturally unsound. It would be helpful if trigger-happy Meng Foon could make the distinction.
    An NZME/1News report published an unobjectionable nonreligious karakia (below) that it said the Kaipara District Council already used. If this were the one Paniora attempted to recite then Jepson would have been rude to prevent it. But the NZME did not claim that these were the words Paniora was trying to say:
    'The karakia for opening meetings:

    'Kia hora te marino
    'Kia whakapapa pounamu te moana
    'Hei hurahi mā tātou I te rangi nei
    'Aroha atu, aroha mai
    'Tātou i a tātou katoa.'

    '(May peace be widespread, Many the sea be like greenstone; a pathway for all of us this day. Let us show respect for each other, for one another. Bind us all together).'

    1. Is there such a thing as a "nonreligious" karakia? Might be difficult to make that distinction in all circumstances. But it's not really the point.

      I support the separation of church and state, and am quite prepared to believe that this principle and not racism was the grounds for Mr. Jepson's actions. But sometimes you have to pick your battles. I have been at union meetings that were started off with an unmistakably religious karakia from a senior and respected stalwart of the union. Should I have protested this "intrusion of religion" into a "civic occasion", at the risk of offending those Maori members present, especially when no-one else was particularly bothered? I think not.


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