International media are having a ball with Prime Minister John Key's Tuhoe "cannibalism joke" and his subsequent "passive-aggressive" apology.

CNN, the Guardian, the United States' National Public Radio, Vanity Fair, the London Evening Standard, the Sydney Morning Herald and multiple international news wires have all picked up on the story, each adding a bit of their own humour.

Speaking at a tourism event in Auckland yesterday, Mr Key made a joke that "I would have been dinner" if he had dined with Tuhoe, after a dispute emerged this week over Treaty negotiations.

The remark has been criticised as badly timed and insensitive by Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell.

"New Zealand's Prime Minister was trying to crack a joke but some saw it in poor taste, no pun intended," reported the Associated Press.

Click here for AP's video coverage of the comments.

The US NPR said Mr Key "has had to drop a cannibal joke from his humour repertoire".

"Prime Minister John Key's would-be knee slapper, told from the podium at a tourism conference, was that if he had visited with members of a Maori tribe whose ancestors were known for cannibalism, HE would have been dinner. You know, the other white meat."

Vanity Fair, meanwhile, showcased Mr Key's apology for the joke as a prime example of a "passive-aggressive" apology:

"Prefacing a statement of regret with the phrase 'if anyone is offended' is a cherished pan-cultural tradition of passive-aggression. Take, for instance, the incident in New Zealand earlier this week, when Prime Minister John Key upset Tuhoe tribe leaders by implying that they are cannibals.

"This tactful rhetorician is at once negating anyone's ability to call him insensitive while simultaneously implying that the offended party is being way too sensitive."

Other headlines include "New Zealand prime minister makes Maori cannibal gaffe", "John Key offends Maori tribe by saying they might 'have him for dinner' after dispute over land", and "PM's cannibal joke 'in poor taste'" .

"New Zealand Prime Minister John Key found himself in hot water Thursday after joking about an indigenous tribe eating him for dinner," said AFP, while CNN reported: "New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was facing heavy criticism Thursday after making a cannibalistic comment about a Maori tribe for the second time in a week."