BEN GOODALE AGAINST RNZ

Case Number: 2785

Council Meeting: JUNE 2019

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Radio NZ

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

Overview

[1] Radio New Zealand (RNZ) published an online article Diocesan School for Girls’ students told they cannot wear hijabon March 21, 2019.The article was published at 8.47pm. The story was updated later in the evening.

[2] On March 22 the original story was taken down and a new story titled Auckland School reviews hijab ban after criticism was published at 12.56pm. A follow up storyAuckland School changes uniform policy to include hijab was published at 8.53pm on March 22.

[3] The original complaint was laid with RNZ and a response was provided to the complainant, Ben Goodale, on April 12, 2019.In essence, RNZ concluded that “while we stand by the content of the original story, in the circumstances, we were happy to update it once further information had been received.”They therefore considered the complaint to have been resolved.The letter of response outlined the option for the complainant to lodge a “decision for review” with the NZ Media Council within 10 working days.

The Complaint

[4] The complaint to the NZ Media Council was lodged by Mr Goodale, a ‘concerned parent of a pupil at Diocesan School for Girls’, regarding the disapproval for students to wear a hijab and the article was described as a “half-baked news story to relate it to the attacks in Christchurch.”

[5] Concern was expressed by Mr Goodale that the reporting on such a matter was poorly timed in light of the Christchurch attacks, “At such a tense time, the last thing we want is creating potential targets for revenge attacks.”

[6] In relation to NZ Media Council principle one, Mr Goodale has suggested that the article is “poorly balanced, and fundamentally, it’s a reckless unnecessary story.”

[7] The wider issue, according to Mr Goodale was about “editorial responsibility”.There is a suggestion that the “original story should never have been published, it was lazy journalism picking up a story from a Turkish website, failing to do any contextual research, and for the journalist to claim she gave the school’s principal an opportunity to comment is simply trite.”

[8] Further, Mr Goodale has described the “initial response from the journalist” as being “unhelpful” in explaining that there was an attempt to provide balance referring to the inclusion of statements from the school and that the school principal was given multiple opportunities to be interviewed but had declined.

[9] Mr Goodale had highlighted that “Dio is a private, Anglican school (i.e. religious), not the only school with a similar policy.”The complaint outlined that “the original Radio NZ story did not discuss any other schools with regard to a hijab ‘rule’.Therefore, there was no balance with regards to whether Diocesan was the only school in New Zealand with a ‘no hijab’ rule, or whether this was widespread.Diocesan was singled out and vilified.”The stories that followed the original version “introduced some balance talked about both St Cuthberts and Baradene.Amazingly, they both had similar wardrobe bans but this had not been researched in the original story.”

[10] Mr Goodale feels strongly that the “Demonisation of Diocesan at that moment in time” was “utterly reckless” which resulted in the school having to take action which included “stepped up security on the gates.”One of the reasons for this was the presence of “protestors outside with placards.” This caused genuine concern for the complainant and other parents about safety in a “febrile atmosphere.”

[11] There were two updates to the original story and Mr Goodale has credited RNZ with doing this, “I would say that I am largely happy that RNZ updated the story twice again during the day of the 22nd March and took the heat off Diocesan by doing some research and seeking some balance (although it was still pretty limited and very Auckland centric).I do feel they listened to a degree.”

[12] In Mr Goodale’s opinion “…this story was carried across multiple media and picked up from the same source, and nearly all failed the balance test.However, other outlets chose to quickly remove the story when challenged (and in fact apologised) whereas the original response of RNZ I feel fell short.”

[13] In response to the formal response by RNZ, Mr Goodale has said that “It feels like Radio NZ have simply taken a legalistic response to a complaint that is about human safety and emotion, and are too proud to accept that they did not adequately balance the original story.”His fundamental concern remains, “that they put a target on the school at a time of heightened national danger, and although they claim otherwise, there were demonstrators outside the school as a direct result of this media coverage. I know that the girls, parents and teachers at the school felt intimidated both by the aggressive media coverage and seeing protestors.”

[14] Mr Goodale has shared his view of the timing of the article within the context of the Christchurch tragedy, “Whilst it is gre

The Response

[15] The complaints coordinator for Radio NZ (RNZ), George Bignell has provided a response to the complaint.

[16] Mr Bignell states that RNZ “stands by its publication of the first two stories but was happy to withdraw them in favour of publishing updated material the following day, something which the complainant is supportive of.”

[17] The complainant had suggested that the original story was sourced from a Turkish website.Mr Bignell has responded by saying “As mentioned in the stories, RNZ was contacted by a teacher who wished to remain anonymous to express concerns about the school’s uniform policy.Those concerns were echoed by a number of members of the community.We did not source the story from a Turkish website.”

[18] There is a confirmation that the “first story did focus on the Diocesan School.”Mr Bignell has suggested, “That is legitimate to do so; what was reported was entirely factual and allowed the reader to draw their own conclusions.”

[19] In response to the suggestion of potential retaliatory action, Mr Bignell says, “The inferences the complainant took from the story regarding potential retaliatory action against the school are just that, i.e. inferences.There was no implication contained in the story that readers should take any action whatsoever.”

[20] In relation to offering the principal of Diocesan an opportunity to respond, Mr Bignell does not think that this was “trite”.Further stating that “The principal was contacted, chose not to respond directly, but the school was able to deploy the resources of a public relations firm to issue a statement on behalf of the school.”

[21] There is an acknowledgement by RNZ that the stories “were published in a charged atmosphere post the Christchurch massacre”, their opinion is that this was “all the more reason for a public scrutiny of the sorts of policies adopted by the Diocesan School.”

[22] Referring to principle 3, RNZ believes that “while [Diocesan] is a private school, there is a legitimate public interest in relation to the “policies of any school that are deployed in the education of young New Zealanders and foreign students, and, the policies of any institution that is in receipt of public funding which RNZ understands the Diocesan School receives from the Ministry of Education.”

[23] In addressing the matter of ‘balance’ in their response, RNZ have suggested that “Some of the factors to be considered are firstly that it is a controversial issue of public importance that is being discussed in an article.”The RNZ have said “The controversial issue focused on in this article was the uniform policy of Diocesan Girls school.”RNZ have further commented that a second point is that the topic “can be considered over the period of current interest.”The RNZ have provided a third point on the issue of balance, this relates to “whether the publisher made reasonable efforts or gave a reasonable opportunity for other significant point(s) of view to be considered in the article.”Mr Bignell has referred to the original complaint “As the complainant has conceded, RNZ did contact the principal of the school and comment from her, through a statement put out by the school’s public relations firm, was included in the article.”

[24] RNZ have referred to the New Zealand Bills of Rights Act in considering the issue of “discrimination and denigration” From the Act, RNZ has referred to the following test, “a very high level of invective is necessary to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard.”On this basis, RNZ conclude “There was no invective contained in the article complained and certainly no call to action was published which would have incited the public to act against the school.”

The Decision

[25] Mr Goodale has referred to a breach of principle 1 in his complaint which deals with accuracy, fairness and balance.Mr Goodale has placed a particular focus on ‘balance’ and this has made up the basis of his complaint. This principle states that publications should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission.Further, in articles of controversy or disagreement, a fair voice must be given to the opposition view.The basis for the original article in this complaint was a report of a school’s uniform policy involving the wearing of hijab but Mr Goodale also highlighted that Diocesan as a school had been made an example of and at a time when there was heightened sensitivity following the Christchurch tragedy.The Council is of the view that there was nothing untoward in focusing on Diocesan as it was the uniform policy of this school which was brought into closer focus through the through the publicised concerns of a teacher at the school.

Whilst the article could be deemed to be ‘controversial’ the opportunity to provide an opposing view was offered to the school’s principal.A response was provided via the school’s public relations firm on behalf of the school.

Principle 1 – Accuracy, Fairness and Balance: Not upheld

[26] NZ Media Council Principle 3 regarding ‘Children and young people’ requires that‘editors must demonstrate an exceptional degree of public interest to override the interests of the child or young person.’In this matter, the focus was on the school and more specifically the school’s uniform policy so there was no focus on ‘the child or young person’ but the Council acknowledges that the timing of this article in the context of the Christchurch tragedy was less than ideal.Such an article drew attention to the school which resulted in protestors outside the school with placards which the Council acknowledges would have been rather unsettling at a time of heightened emotions following the Christchurch tragedy just the week before.

Principle 3 – Children and Young People: Not upheld

[27] In considering the third principle that the complaint was filed under ‘Discrimination and Diversity’ the Council must decide whether or not Radio NZ placed gratuitous emphasis on the stated categories under NZ Media Council Principle 7.As the core focus of the article was on the school’s uniform policy the basis for the article does not easily fit any of the stated categories but could be considered under the category of religion as the hijab is associated with the Muslim faith.The content of the article does not place gratuitous emphasis on the hijab per se but discusses the views of the school in relation to the school’s uniform policy which did not include the wearing of hijab.

Principle 7 – Discrimination and Diversity: Not upheld

Media Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay, Tim Watkin and Tracy Watkins.