Case Number: 3464

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2023

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters
Discrimination and Diversity
Conflicts of Interest

Ruling Categories: Misleading
Conspiracy Theories

Stuff published an article on September 11, 2023, headlined Sword fights to anti-vaxxers, Christopher Luxon will do anything to win.

This was a political commentary by Tova O’Brien in which she focussed on the National Party leader’s campaigning style and his confidence. The article included comment that Mr Luxon had come “unstuck” by refusing to rule out working with anti-vaxxers.

Damon Mather complained about Ms O’Brien, saying she was a “cancer” and that her opinions were “gross”. Mr Mather said the article should have been labelled opinion. It was designed to create division and was attacking anti-vaxxers, almost claiming they should have no voice around a ministerial table.

Mr Mather also complained about Stuff’s delayed response to his complaint, which he filed on September 11.

Stuff replied to him on November 6 and apologised for not replying to his complaint earlier.

Stuff said the piece was provocative but disagreed that it said anti-vaxxers should not have a place at the table. The story said Mr Luxon was comfortable working with those with such beliefs and Mr Luxon was quoted, addressing the point. When it was initially posted on-line the story did not carry an analysis tagline. It was added later but Stuff said the headline made it clear that it was a piece of political analysis.

The Media Council believes the story should have been labelled as analysis when it first went up. That was rectified, although it agrees with Stuff that it was obvious from the headline and the content of the article that this was a piece of commentary.

As for the other points made in the complaint, the Council can only note that Mr Mather is entitled to express his views. However, personal abuse and unsupported assertions, such as his claim that the media are pushing “agendas and ideas from US and Jewish interests”, do nothing to advance his complaint that the article breached any of the Media Council’s principles.

Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.


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