ALASTAIR GOODLAND AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD
Case Number: 3172
Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2021
Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed
Publication: New Zealand Herald
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Deception or Subterfuge
CASE NO: 3172
RULING BY THE NEW ZEALAND MEDIA COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINT OF ALASTAIR GOODLAND AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD
FINDING: INSUFFICIENT GROUNDS TO PROCEED
DATE: DECEMBER 2021
The New Zealand Herald ran an article on November 16, 2021, headlined There’s a high chance of a domestic terror attack before 2022 ends. The by-lined opinion piece by a senior staff writer speculated that if the attack comes it will be connected to the protest movement that has grown around Covid-19 issues.
Alastair Goodland complained the article was in breach of Media Council principles relating to accuracy, fairness and balance; columns; blogs, opinion and letters; comment and fact; discrimination and diversity; and subterfuge. It was also in breach of advertising standards. *
He said it set a tone of discrimination against people who were protesting the Government’s Covid response and further divided the vaccinated against the unvaccinated. It also created fear in the vaccinated population of people who were exercising their right to question things.
It put protestors in the same category as the mosque bomber and other people who commit terrorist attacks. The article also incited violence and was hate speech.
Mr Goodland also called for the writer to be censured and for the Herald to apologise to the public.
The Media Council notes that this was not a news report but an opinion piece. It was considered under Principle 4 (comment and fact) that applies to such commentary. This states: A clear distinction should be drawn between factual information and comment or opinion. An article that is essentially comment or opinion should be clearly presented as such. Material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate.
Principle 5 (which relates to opinion) states that opinion must be clearly identified as such. It also sets out a requirement for a foundation of fact to pertain, but balance is not essential.
The article was clearly marked as opinion. The Media Council also observes that there was a factual basis for the author’s opinion about the risk of a terror attack when he cited a report by the Combined Threat Assessment Group.
This concluded there was a medium threat level which meant “a terrorist attack is assessed as feasible and could well occur.”
The level of threat was partly based on the impact of the March 15 terror attack, partly on external online influence and partly on pressures created by the pandemic. The report also warned of a realistic possibility that cumulative factors, such as Covid-19 associated grievances and growing international and political and social tensions, have increased the number of individuals in New Zealand motivated by personal grievances or single issues.
The Media Council finds that given the opinions expressed by the writer were based on an official assessment, and no factual error has been shown, this complaint cannot be sustained.
We also note that anti-vaccination protesters are not a protected ground under the Media Council’s principle relating to discrimination and diversity.
There were insufficient grounds to proceed.
*Advertising complaints are a matter for the Advertising Standards Authority and not the Media Council.