AMRINDER GAMBHIR AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 3034

Council Meeting: APRIL 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Comment and Fact
Discrimination

Overview

[1] Amrinder Gambhir complains about an article: “New Zealand resident left with no choice but to fly to ‘Covid-19 ridden India’ after his wife refused entry after a year of marriage”, which was published by Stuff on 5 March 2021. His complaint falls to be decided under Media Council Principle 1: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, Principle 4: Comment and Fact and Principle 7: Discrimination and Diversity. The complaint is not upheld.

[2] The Media Council notes that it assesses this complaint on the basis of the information available to the parties at the time of publication and does not consider any subsequent events.

The Article

[3] The article reported on a New Zealand resident, who had been declined a partnership visa for his wife, whom he had married through a culturally arranged marriage in November 2019. He had returned to India in an attempt to prove to the authorities in New Zealand that the relationship was genuine, in order to secure a visa so that she could come to New Zealand. The article included comments from the couple’s lawyer that he ‘… believed that “extreme immigration vetting” had forced his client to abandon New Zealand to be with [his wife] in “Covid-19 ridden India”’.


The Complaint

[4] Amrinder Gambhir through both his original complaint and final comment complains that the claim that India is ridden with Covid-19 is discriminatory and shows an incorrect picture of the reality. Citing statistics available online, he suggests that the number of cases of Covid-19 per capita in India is very low, as are active cases per capita. He considers that, as a result, the article is itself is inaccurate and Stuff should verify the opinions of those people they interview, and not simply record those opinions in quotation marks. In his view, publishing such material without checking its veracity can lead to an unsubstantiated claim being taken as truth. In particular, he is concerned that the effect of publishing such information is that it can create an atmosphere of exclusion against minorities from certain racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The Response

[5] Stuff notes that in the statement at issue the lawyer was making the point that ‘extreme immigration vetting’ had forced his client to leave New Zealand to travel to a country that was in the midst of a severe outbreak of coronavirus. It considers that the lawyer was clearly trying to advocate for his clients and make a point about the folly of sending someone with a job and life in New Zealand into a potentially risky situation. The description of India is clearly attributed to the lawyer and was clearly a quote reflecting the lawyer’s argument on behalf of his client.

[6] Stuff also considers that the statement itself was not inaccurate. It notes that on the day the article was published Indian media were reporting on the severity of the outbreak, with both the capital New Delhi and Maharashtra (where the couple reside) experiencing a spike in cases.

[7] Stuff does not consider that the article was discriminatory against India. It notes that at the time of publication, India had the second highest number of cases in the world, behind the United States. Stuff has also used the adjectives ‘riddled’ and ‘ridden’ in the context of reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom, Florida and the Ukraine. As a result, Stuff suggests that while it might be guilty of over-using a clichéd phrase it was not inciting discrimination against India.

The Decision

[8] Mr Gambhir’s complaint centres on the statement that India is ‘ridden’ with Covid-19. Given this was sourced from a direct quote from the lawyer for the couple we consider that this engages Media Council Principle 4: Comment and Fact, which states that:

A clear distinction should be drawn between factual information and comment or opinion … Material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate.

The article clearly delineates its sources and their views from its factual content. The statement is a direct quote and is clearly presented as the lawyer’s opinion.

[9] Mr Gambhir’s broader concern is the facts underpinning the quotation are inaccurate and that this has led the article as a whole to be inaccurate. We consider that, in addition to Principle 4, this also engages Media Council Principle 1: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, which states:

Publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance, and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission …

In support of his suggestion that the facts presented were inaccurate Mr Gambhir points to the relatively low per capita rate of infections in comparison to other countries. In contrast, Stuff suggests that at the time of publication various parts of India were experiencing a spike in Covid-19 cases. It notes that it has used the adjective ‘ridden’ in relation to at least three other areas of the world.

[10] The Media Council considers that the differing points of view taken by the complainant and Stuff serve to highlight that as descriptors, words such as ‘ridden’ will almost always be contested. Ultimately, in most cases it will be a matter of opinion as to whether or not such words apply to a situation or not. While it is not known on what evidence the lawyer based his opinion, on the material available to the Media Council it does not appear that the opinion was clearly or demonstrably wrong nor does the article itself appear to be inaccurate.

[11] We do not think that the inclusion of the quote, or the way in which it was presented, breached Principle 4, nor do we consider that there has been a breach of Principle 1.

[12] The complainant’s final concern relates to the effect such statements may have on discrimination against particular countries and minority groups that may identify with that country. This engages Media Council Principle 7: Discrimination and Diversity, states that

Issues of gender, religion, minority groups, sexual orientation, age, race, colour or physical or mental disability are legitimate subjects for discussion where they are relevant and in the public interest, and publications may report and express opinions in these areas. Publications should not, however, place gratuitous emphasis on any such category in their reporting.

The Media Council acknowledges that the complainant feels uncomfortable with the way in which India was described in this article and concerned about the effect that description might have on minority groups. However, although we recognise the complainant’s concern that such statements may impact on minority groups, rather than simply being discriminatory against India (which is how Stuff appears to read the complainant’s point), the article does not reach the threshold of placing gratuitous emphasis on an issue of minority groups or race.

The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair) Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

Rosemary Barraclough stood down to maintain a public member majority.

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