DAVE BROMWICH AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 3032

Council Meeting: APRIL 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Photographs

Overview

1. Dave Bromwich complains about a long-form documentary called Deleted,which was published by Stuff on March 16, 2021.

2. He says it breaches: Principle 1: Accuracy fairness and balance and Principle 4: Comment and fact.

The Documentary

3. Deleted is a 41-minute documentary which Stuff says exposes New Zealand business and political links to a Chinese company, iFlytek, involved in human rights violations against Uyghurs in the province of Xinjiang.

4. Stuff says it also investigates the extrajudicial imprisonment of the brother of a Uyghur New Zealander.Deleted is the work of the Stuff Circuit investigative unit.

The Complaint

5. Mr Bromwich has spent ‘a lot of time in China’, and has visited Xinjiang several times. He is the national president of the NZ China Friendship Society but makes this complaint as an individual and not on behalf of the NZCFS.

6. He says the documentary is an example of ‘unbalanced journalism’ and the ‘use of misinterpretation and imagery to create a story that misleads the readership’. He says the overall impression presented inDeleted is supported by ‘very spurious representations’ that have long circulated in Western media.

7. Deleted lacks context and sympathy regarding the ‘hundreds’ of victims of ‘hundreds’ of terrorist attacks throughout Xinjiang that have killed and injured members of all 12 ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang including Uyghur.

8. It also lacks balance, as the terrorist attacks ceased in 2016, andthe vast majority of Uyghurs are living peacefully in Xinjiang, in a secure stable society free from fear of attack.

9. Deleted regularly uses images that are not referenced, and are reminiscent of 1930s Nazi Germany anti-Jew propaganda films used by Goebbels in 1930s Nazi Germany. It uses models that have ‘no place in any news documentary claiming to come from a credible journalism source’.

10. Mr Bromwich asks whether the view of over 12 million Uyghurs living in Xinjiang and China has been sought ‘aside from an attempt to uncover possible negative views that again bear no factual basis?’

11. He says the claim that journalists have no unfettered access to Xinjiang is incorrect and offers to supply reports from journalists who have had access.

12. Mr Bromwich says Deleted presents the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) as well respected. However, in Australia there is ‘awareness that, by acting as a voice for US anti-China rhetoric, the ASPI is damaging not only the Australian-Chinese relationship but contributing to an increase in geopolitical tensions.’

13. Deleted expresses concern about a small investment, linked to the NZ Government, in the development of iFlytech. Mr Bromwich questions whether it is inconsistent that Stuff did not show similar concern about ASPI funding (3 per cent) from Lockheed Martin.

14. Deleted incorrectly translates signs on a kindergarten as saying “Only Chinese must be spoken’’, which implies a command of oppression. Mr Bromwich says a more correct translation would be ‘in the school, please speak mandarin’, and ‘speaking mandarin starts with me’.

15. He says that in the kindergarten featured, speaking Chinese is ‘politely encouraged, just as is the use of te reo Māori in kura kaupapa in New Zealand’.

The Response

16. Patrick Crewdson, Stuff Editor in Chief, stands by Deleted and all related coverage. He says Mr Bromwich’s complaint is ‘punctuated’ with red herrings or ‘whataboutism’.”

17. Stuff have distilled Mr Bromwich’s complaint down to three allegations:

  • That Deleted lacks balance, and fails to represent a positive view of the Chinese Government’s “policy direction and achievements” in Xinjiang.
  • That imagery used in Deleted misleads viewers.
  • Various alleged factual inaccuracies.

18. Lack of balance - Mr Crewdson says it is important to note that Mr Bromwich’scomplaint is about the more general situation of alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

19. Mr Crewdson cites multiple sources regarding a “considerable body of evidence supporting allegations that the Chinese Government has committed human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang”

20. The background material researched by Stuff journalists was not, as Mr Bromwich contends in his complaint, “very spurious representations that have been circulating in Western media”.

21. Mr Crewdson references multiple reports, including a 2018 Human Rights 117-page report based on the direct experiences of Uyghurs who had been held in detention centres, interviews with detainees’ families and Xinjiang citizens who had fled overseas to escape persecution.

22. Mr Crewdson notes that the official NZ Government position on the matter as of March 23, 2021, is that NZ holds grave concernabout the growing number of credible reports of severe human rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

23. To ensure fairness and balance, Stuff Circuit made repeated requests to the Chinese Consulate to be interviewed forDeleted. Those requests went unanswered. The segments of the documentary from 32:50 to 34:10 and 38:13 to 40:14 show the Circuit team locating Consul General Ruan Ping at a public event to give him right of reply to the documentary’s key points.

24. Mr Crewdson says in that interview, Ruan Ping says:

  • He is confident China’s legal processes are fair
  • Allegations of human rights abuses are “fake news” and “baseless”
  • Evidence for human rights abuses is “fake news” supplied by the US Government

25. Mr Bromwich also objects to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute being cited as an expert source, suggesting it does not deserve to be described as “well-respected”. Mr Crewdson says “We are satisfied the Institute’s credentials amount to appropriate qualifications for an expert source. Its denunciation by the Chinese Government does not diminish that.”

26. Misleading imagery – Mr Crewdson saysDeleted’s use of models is clearly explained, to prevent any risk of viewers being misled.“There is no chance of any conscious viewer being misled by the use of these models. “

27. Factual inaccuracies – Mr Bromwich says it is incorrect to say journalists do not enjoy unfettered access to Xinjiang. The phrase used in the documentary is that “journalists can’t freely report” from Xinjiang.

28. Mr Bromwich says a sign on a kindergarten has been mistranslated - the footage of the kindergarten is sourced via Getty Images and appeared in aBBC News 10pm Bulletin on04/07/2019. The BBC report says “only Chinese must be spoken”.

29. Stuff Circuit asked a translator whether this was an accurate translation. They said while the literal translation was, “When you enter this school please speak Mandarin” the BBC wording was, in the context, a fair paraphrasing.

Mr Bromwich’s final comment

30. Mr Bromwich provides links to three stories or reports that offer the counter view that China is committing genocide, in one case referring to the ‘genocide sham’. He says "I expect these to be received as comprehensive and valid investigative reports."

31.He says the BBC got the reporting on the kindergarten sign wrong, and in generalDeleted offers a solid ‘body of allegation’ as opposed to evidence.

Stuff’s final comment

32. Mr Crewdson says the sources Mr Bromwich supplies “absolutely do not warrant the status of comprehensive and valid investigative reports." He says none of these sources are impartial, comprehensive or investigative in nature, and none of them credibly undermines the reporting in Deleted”.

The Decision

33. This is a lengthy complaint about an emotive political and human rights issue with growing relevance to New Zealand. New Zealand is home to Uyghur people who have become separated from family in Xinjiang due to what they say is overt political interference from the Chinese government.

34. Mr Bromwich’s complaint is wide ranging, and poses many questions to Stuff. Mr Bromwich concludes his complaint by demanding that Stuff answer the many questions that he has raised.

35. Stuff has no obligation to answer each and every question Mr Bromwich poses, but the Media Council notes that after an initially short response, Stuff’s consequent Media Council complaint response to Mr Bromwich is detailed.

36. Mr Bromwich clearly holds a particular political view as to the situation in China, and Stuff has countered his allegations thatDeleted is unfair and imbalanced with several responses including the clear concern that multiple Governments hold regarding human rights abuses in China.

37. Mr Bromwich’s allegations around inaccuracies centre on his assertion that Stuff’s stance is based on “very spurious representations that have been circulating in Western media”.

38. The Media Council considers that Stuff has based its assertions on human rights abuses against Uyghur on reputable sources and information, and first person accounts as reported inDeleted.

39. The Media Council does not consider that the images and models used are misleading – Deleted makes it clear as to why it they are used – it does not have easy access to China and Xinjiang to report. The documentary is clear that journalists cannot freely report.

40. Regarding a sign on a kindergarten that has been mistranslated – the Media Council notes there are two interpretations - “only Chinese must be spoken” which Stuff uses and “When you enter this school please speak Mandarin” – the literal translation.

41. ‘Only Chinese must be spoken’ is a paraphrase of the latter, and in the context of the documentary, the Media Council does not believe it breaches Principle 1 or 4.

42. Deleted takes a strong stance against China and its treatment of Uyghurs and the Council notes that Stuff made several unanswered efforts to contact the Chinese Consulate to be interviewed forDeleted.

43. The Deleted team located Consul General Ruan Ping at a public event and put multiple questions to him, in an effort to provide balance to the allegations within the documentary.

44. The Council considers that Stuff has met its obligation in terms of balance, by seeking comment from the Consul General and including his response in the resulting documentary.

45. The Media Council notes that the Consul General’s repeated response to allegations from Stuff, is that the claims against the Chinese government are fake news.

46. We also note that is important to have a media free to produce a substantial body of work such asDeleted and adopt forthright positions on controversial issues.

47. With regard to Principle 4 – Comment and Fact - Mr Bromwich makes no specific argument as to any lack of clarity over what is presented as fact or opinion. The Council can also see no proof within his complaint, that opinion expressed inDeleted is based on inaccuracies.

Decision – this complaint is not upheld

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

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