Case Number: 3375

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2023

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Radio NZ

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Headlines and Captions
Discrimination and Diversity

Ruling Categories: Defamation/Damaging To Reputation
Disinformation, Misinformation


  1. Colin Decio complains about a Stuff story republished by Radio New Zealand (RNZ) titled Fewer than a dozen ‘disinformation’ candidate elected to councils which he says amounts to propaganda. Mr Decio complains under Media Council Principles (1), (6) and (7). The complaint is not upheld.

The Article

  1. On 9 October 2022 the Stuff article in question was re-published by RNZ, and the complaint is directed against RNZ and not Stuff.  The article documents the results of the recent local government elections and discusses a number of successful candidates who they state promote ‘false claims and conspiracy theories’. The article proceeds to document evidence on each of the people included in the article, including their links to other organisations and their public statements.

The Complaint

  1. Colin Decio complains that including 'disinformation candidates' in the headline of this article is tantamount to propaganda.  He states that it represents a biased point of view aimed at discrediting those mentioned in the article and manipulating readers.  He includes the following definition of propaganda in his complaint 'Propaganda is the more or less systematic effort to manipulate other people’s beliefs, attitudes, or actions by means of symbols (words, gestures, banners, monuments, music, clothing, insignia, hairstyles, designs on coins and postage stamps, and so forth).’

The Response

  1. RNZ responds by stating that there is no supporting evidence in the complaint that they can access.  They can see no reasoning in the complaint, and as such can take it no further. 

  2. They go on to state that the authors have used the label ‘disinformation candidates’ to describe a group of people who sought election to a local body and subscribe to various conspiracy theories.  The specific details of these theories are described in the article.  RNZ argues that the term is accurate shorthand that does not mislead or misinform readers, nor it is inaccurate, unfair, or unbalanced.

  3. They conclude by stating that the term 'disinformation candidates’ fairly conveys a key element of the story.  It describes a group and expresses an opinion on that group in the public interest and is not gratuitously emphatic. It certainly is not ‘propaganda’ as described in the complaint.

The Discussion

  1. Decio complains under Media Council Principles (1), (6) and (7). Each will be considered here. 

  2. Principle(1): Accuracy, Fairness and Balance ensures publications do not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission and omission.  The question then becomes does term ‘disinformation candidates’ deliberately misinform readers or is it valid shorthand for a group of candidates that Stuff has evidence showing they have shared disinformation or are linked to organisations that have?  Based on the evidence presented in the article (that includes previous interviews with Stuff, social media posts, and statements from candidates themselves) Stuff can be seen to have backed up its claims of the candidates profiled. No specific examples of misleading facts or inaccuracies were identified in the complaint and the Media Council can see no evidence of Stuff attempting to deliberately mislead its readers.

  3. Principle (6): Headlines and Captions ensures that publications should accurately convey the substance or key element of their report in their headline.  Stuff has clearly done this.  The article is about the success or not of a range of candidates who are linked with organisations considered by Stuff to promote disinformation. 
  5. Principle (7):Discrimination and Diversity ensures that there should not be gratuitous emphasis on any category (such as gender, religion, sexual orientation, minority groups, age, race).  In raising this, the Media Council assumes the complainant thinks Stuff is unfairly targeting this group of candidates.  Principle (7) allows for discussion of groups if it is relevant and in the public interest.  Whether the subjects in the article constitute a group (the main connection being they were candidates in recent local government elections but their beliefs and connections are varied) can be debated.  However, the Media Council is clear that the topic of the article was relevant and in the public interest.  In the run-up to the local government elections there was considerable public interest in the views and allegiances of candidates. Therefore it is in the public interest to analyse the election results.

Not uphold

 Council members considering the complaint were the Hon. Raynor Asher (chair); Rosemary Barraclough; Tim Watkin, Scott Inglis, Hank Schouten, Ben Frances, Jo Cribb, Marie Shroff, Alison Thom and Richard Pamatatau.


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