Case Number: 3310

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2022

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Conflicts of Interest

Ruling Categories: Behaviour of Journalists
Comment and Fact
Conflict of Interest
Offensive Language


  1. Stuff published an article on July 1, 2022, headlined: Hong Kongers abandon a city and lifestyle they no longer recognise. The story, marking the 25th anniversary of China taking over Hong Kong, profiled three people who left Hong Kong for New Zealand and their reasons for doing so.
  2.  The article prompted a complaint from Andrew Li who said he read it with disgust. He described it as an unfair attack on the newly independent Government of Hong Kong.
  3.  He said the article was written by a “notorious bigot who hates any Chinese man who speaks up for himself, especially if he’s one of those wicked Chinese men who don’t speak the Holy Tongue of Cantonese.”
  4.  “It is a clear violation of principles 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance) and 10 (conflicts of interest) for this horrifically biased creature to be writing articles about the Government of the Chinese people of Hong Kong.”
  5.  Mr Li also claimed the writer was also responsible for some anonymous online comments abusing and making fun of the Hong Kong police.
  6.  The Wellington editor Stuff Anna Fifield explained the handling of the complaint was delayed as spam filters blocked messages containing curse words and hateful language.
  7.  She said she wished the complaint had been made in a more civil way. “There is no reason to call someone a ‘bigot’ just because you don’t agree with them.”
  8.  She also said this was a fair and balanced account of Hong Kong Kiwis’ experiences and feelings about what was happening to their other home.
  9.  “They are speaking out about the loss of democratic freedoms in recent years as the CCP has exerted ever more control over Hong Kong and eroded the basis of ‘one country, two systems’. Their opinions are completely valid, and they were topical at the time of the 25th anniversary of the handover.”
  10.  The reporter spoke to these people in Cantonese, using his language skills to have easier conversations with his subjects.
  11.  Ms Fifield added she encouraged this reporting because of her own background in China where she was the Beijing Bureau chief for the Washington Post until 2020. She had witnessed many of these erosions and had many conversations with young Chinese and Hong Kongers.
  12.  “I am more than satisfied that we not only abide by the principles of the Media Council but also the fundamental tenets of the Fourth Estate as a pillar of democracy.”
  13.  The official Chinese view had also been covered on many occasions.
  14.  The Media Council is not persuaded that there are any grounds for complaint.
  15.  This was a story reporting the views of three people who had migrated from Hong Kong because of the erosion of democracy there. Their comments were plainly their opinions and background facts had not been shown to be inaccurate.
  16.  The complainant claimed some on-line comments had been written by the reporter and that this was evidence of bias on his part. The reporter had made a tweet when he was a student in Auckland abusing the Hong Kong Police with obscenities, after a shooting in Hong Kong of a university student there. Stuff agreed that although it was far from ideal that the reporter tweeted this in the first place, he was speaking in the context of his own lived experience, and that of his friends and family still in Hong Kong. His experience means he is able to give immediacy and importance to an international issue that concerns many New Zealanders.
  17.  The Council accepts that reporters who are expert in a particular political area will often have knowledge and views arising from that specialised experience. Whether that is a breach of the conflict of interest principle is always a question of degree.  The Council does not think that this student tweet indicates that the reporter has crossed the line and ceased to be independent. It is significant that there is no detailed factually supported complaint about inaccuracy in the article.
  18. Unfortunately the complaint is very personal and insulting of the reporter.  It would have been better if it had focused on the Media Council principles than the character of the reporter.  The Council agrees with the editor in wishing the complainant had been more civil. The use of abuse and vitriol does not advance any argument. 

Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.


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