ALICE RICHARDSON AGAINST STUFF (KEA KIDS)

Case Number: 3079

Council Meeting: JULY 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Children and Young People
Discrimination
Unfair Coverage

Overview

KEA Kids News is funded by NZ On Air and is made for children, by children in video format hosted on Stuff. The project aims to encourage children between the ages of 7-11 to be involved and excited about news and current affairs.

On April 21, the KEA Kids News bulletin included a story about the Brickman Lego exhibition at the Auckland Museum where at certain times quiet sessions were offered for autistic children. The reporter, James aged 9, talked to several children at one of the quiet sessions about their experience of autism. They discussed how hard friendships can be and how difficult school is for those with autism.

One of those featured was 4-year-old Samuel. His mother talked about how important Lego had been to improving his behaviour. We are shown Samuel proudly showing off the penguin family he has made from Lego. A short clip showing Samuel rocking holding a cube toy was also included. In the text accompanying the KEA Kids News video, Stuff states that Samuel has gone from “rocking on the floor to finding his passion – becoming a Lego master.”

The Complaint

Alice Richardson writes that the way rocking has been referred to in the video and accompanying text discriminates against autistic people as it negatively frames a positive behaviour that she and others with autism use to manage their disability. She states that “rocking is an excellent and healthy tool autistic people can use to manage sensory input. ”Because it has been framed in a negative way, the article and video risk shaming autistic people out of doing what is an important tool for self-regulation.

She goes on to state that many autistic adults who have been shamed out of using natural methods of self-regulation such as rocking often replace it with less obvious but more harmful behaviours, such as self-harm and drug use.

Further, Alice states that as an autistic person, she rocks and if Samuel still rocks that should be viewed as fine as well.

She acknowledges that non-autistic people may see rocking as disturbing but the reality for those rocking is not so. Greater acceptance of autism and self-regulation behaviours, she concludes, will result in better mental health for autistic people. The benefits of Lego do not need to be contrasted with rocking to make this point.

The Response

Stuff responds that the KEA Kids Executive producer spent hours filming at the Brickman exhibition, the intent being to explain autism using children’s own words using the quiet sessions and Lego as a way of explaining concepts such as touch and noise and crowds in way children would understand the experiences of their autistic peers.

Samuel’s mother provided the cellphone video of Samuel rocking on the floor to show the audience the change in his communication because of using Lego. Stuff states that this was not a KEA Kids News value judgement about rocking, rather it was Samuel’s mother’s way of showing her son’s development.

Stuff has approached Samuel’s mother regarding this complaint. She has expressed concern that someone would complain about the wording when this has been her family’s reality and she is proud of the story and her son’s progress. She wants to continue to focus on informing the world that “autism is not that end of the world and has no limits: the limits, barriers and bad thoughts are only set by the community.”

The Decision

The Media Council wants to acknowledge the considerable thought that has been shown by both parties in bringing and responding to this complaint. Media coverage of the experiences of autistic people is important but, as the issues raised here demonstrate, such coverage needs to be done with care.

The two principles under which this complaint has been made are: Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and Principle 7: Discrimination and Diversity.

For a complaint to be upheld under Principle 1, the publication needs to mislead or misinform its readers or be unfair. The Media Council can find no evidence of this from Stuff. Stuff has reported what has been the experience of one mother about her son and sought to verify the use of the phrase about rocking before publication. Samuel’s mother has confirmed that the phrase is an accurate description of her son’s change in behaviour.

For a complaint to be upheld under Principle 7, publications must have placed “gratuitous emphasis on any such category [physical or mental disability in this case] in their reporting. ”Again, the Media Council can see no breach. The story aims to destigmatise and demystify autism for children by giving autistic children the opportunity to share their experiences in their own words and ends by encouraging children to use Lego to make friends with autistic children.

The Media Council would like to thank Alice Richardson for making her complaint. In highlighting her experience, she has raised the important issue how we interpret the behaviours of autistic people.

The complaint was not upheld

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Sandy Gill, Jonathan MacKenzie, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff and Tim Watkin.

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