A complaint against Sir Robert Jones' "Maori Gratitude Day" column has been dismissed by a press ethics panel.

But the Press Council, whose vote was split 7 to 4 against the complaint, has criticised the column, which was considered "malicious and infantile" by most of the members.

Sir Robert wrote in the National Business Review that a "Maori Gratitude Day", should replace Waitangi Day. As there were "no full-blooded Maoris in existence it indisputably follows that had it not been for migrants, mainly Brits, not a single Maori alive today … could have existed".

The holiday would enable Maori to "bring us breakfast in bed" and perform other tasks "out of gratitude for existing", Sir Robert wrote.

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NBR withdrew the column from its website soon after publication on February 2 after sections of it began to be posted on social media. The newspaper told the council these extracts were used out of context from a satirical column that could not be taken seriously.

Sir Robert said his piece was tongue-in-cheek, the council said.

An online petition called for Sir Robert's knighthood to be revoked andmedia reported he threatened to sue the petition's organiser over her claim his remarks amounted to "hate speech".

Mel Whaanga, who laid the Press Council complaint, maintained Jones' comments were "racist", the council said.

"The complainant claims NBR 'tolerates' the Jones' [sic] negative view and that the comments are 'out of touch with Maori and mainstream NZ'."

NBR said the column was clearly opinion and fell under the principle of freedom of expression.

The press council majority said: "Satire gives wide licence to provoke, mock or make a point by gross exaggeration as is frequently the case with cartoons."

A key media role was as a platform for free expression of opinion and as long as material was clearly identified as opinion, "there are few restrictions on the content of opinion pieces".

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Opinion must, under the council's principles, be founded on fact and without gratuitous emphasis on issues such as gender, religion, minority groups, sexual orientation, age, race, colour or disability.

"There is, however, no prohibition on insulting or offensive material."

Sir Robert's claims there are no full-blooded Maori and that without migrants no Maori would be alive today were "contentious and ill-founded".

"[They were] clearly not to be taken seriously and the column was mean, malicious and infantile. It is not surprising the item drew an angry response.

"Readers do not have a right not to be offended, but publishers disregard the tastes of their readers at their peril and need to think about them before publication.

"We note the column was subsequently pulled from NBR's website and that it will no longer be publishing Sir Bob's columns. We consider this an appropriate response to the justified public outrage at the item."

The council minority believed the column "clearly exceeded a reasonable boundary of free speech on the subject of race".

"Putting aside the accuracy of the claim there are no 'full-blooded' Maori alive today, which the complainant contested, the minority found it hard to follow the contention that had it not been for migrants to New Zealand there would be no Maori today.

"The writer appeared to be straining for a reason to suggest Maori should grovel in gratitude to non-Maori for their survival, a suggestion the four members found gratuitously offensive."

The minority did not think that this was excusable as satire. The principle of freedom of speech was not served by humour that depended on deliberate, gratuitous offence to a racial minority for the amusement of the writer and those who shared his racial attitudes.

"This was an egregious example of free speech being used for no purpose beyond cruel amusement."

Free speech on race should stop short of humour that deliberately sets out to hurt.