MediaFebruary 7, 2018

Bob Jones and NBR divorce over ‘Māori Gratitude Day’ column


‘I shan’t bother writing any more for NBR,’ says Sir Bob Jones after his piece calling for Māori gratitude is deleted from the paper’s website. Toby Manhire and Duncan Greive report.

Bob Jones will be filing no more for the National Business Review after the deletion of his most recent contribution, which included a call for an annual “Māori Gratitude Day” (which he later renamed “Māori Appreciation Day”) and sparked online disgust, was pulled from the paper’s website.

The inciting passage in the property magnate and polemicist’s “Bits and Bobs” column, which carried the subheading “Time for a troll”, argued, “as there are no full-blooded Māoris in existence it indisputably follows that had it not been for migrants, mainly Brits, not a single Māori alive today … would have existed”. Ergo, he continued, “it’s long overdue for some appreciation. I have in mind a public holiday where Māori bring us breakfast in bed or weed our gardens, wash and polish our cars and so on, out of gratitude for existing.”

The column, which appeared in the print edition of the NBR on Friday, provoked angry responses when screenshots were posted on social media. “I couldn’t be more disappointed in the NBR for publishing this,” tweeted Herald columnist Lizzie Marvelly. “If you subscribe, feel free to voice your repulsion with cancelled subscriptions.

NBR’s removal of the column from its site was “right up there with Trudeau re wetness”, Jones told the Spinoff in an email.

The Spinoff has chosen not to approach the Canadian prime minister for comment.

“What I wrote is factually indisputable,” Jones continued, “namely that no Māori alive today would exist had it not been for (mainly) European migrations, given, we’re told, there are no 100% pure Māori any more.”

The idea that there is no living Māori person without any Pākehā ancestry is disputable and has been disputed. The broader notion of measuring “Māori-ness” according to blood quantum is deeply controversial, though embraced by many “one rule for all” Hobson’s Pledge style advocates.

As for the deletion of the piece, Jones said: “As a result I shan’t bother writing any more for NBR which I only did at the owner’s request to help them out. I’ve certainly got better things to do with my time.”

A senior source at the NBR told the Spinoff the controversial passage was “part of a wider column which was clearly satire”, but it caused “misgivings” among staff. The source said that had it been “one piece, just on that topic” the NBR would not have run it. Editors had, however,  “listened to feedback and responded”, and now regarded its publication as an “error of judgement”.

In what appears to be a different version of events to Jones’ statement that “I shan’t bother writing any more for NBR”, the source at the publication said the decision to terminate the column was made at its end, and communicated with Jones in a telephone conversation.

A separate NBR source told the Spinoff that “Approximately 100% of NBR editorial staff” would approve of the column’s discontinuation.

It is not the first time Jones has parted ways acrimoniously with a newspaper. In 2015 he quit the Herald over what he called “tampering” with his copy, following the publication of a news article describing his ejection from an Air New Zealand flight (before it left the airport) over a squabble about his responsibilities in a seat adjacent to the emergency exit. Writing in the NBR shortly afterwards, Jones said he had arrived at a solution to “Air New Zealand’s infantilism”: he would purchase a private jet.

Jones told the Spinoff today that he believes the Herald would, however, “have run the tongue-in-cheek Māori Appreciation Day piece without thinking twice about it”.

Jones added: “As doubtless you know, there are always miserable sods poised, waiting to take offence at anything and everything. Indeed I wrote a hypothetical Herald column on this once, speculating on the flood of criticism if I simply wrote ‘the cat sat on the mat’. You’ll find it on the web. And believe it or not buggers still piled in.”

The Spinoff research unit has been unable to find it on the web. However, a Kiwiblog post about the column survives.

The “Time for a troll” subheading was written by NBR editors, but the glove fits. Jones has been busily trolling since before the idiom was born.

Provocations over recent years include dismissing beggars as “mostly fat Māoris”, calling for a ban on women drivers and admonishing women victims of indecent assault as “silly” for walking in a park. Jones’s back catalogue also includes the creation of the New Zealand Party, which contributed to the ousting of prime minister Robert Muldoon, punching in the face a reporter who approached him while he was fishing for trout, and an application for Wellington Council approval to erect “a 5,000-metre-high statue of the great Gareth Morgan, in celebration of his overwhelming wonderfulness”.

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