DAVE HAMMOND AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 3217

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2022

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Columnists Opinion
Discrimination
Misrepresentation
Social Media
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. On 17 November Stuff ran an opinion piece headlined The problems with the ‘blokey joke’ that National’s Simon Bridges made to Jacqui Dean. The author commented that this was the sort of sexual innuendo and harassment that women have to deal with regularly and cited some previous cases of National MPs’ inappropriate behaviour towards women.

 

2. The column went on to say that “Bridges comments might not fall at the same end of the spectrum as those cases. But it doesn’t have to in order to be concerning. Even if it had been clever or funny, jokes meant to demean women all feed into the idea that women are somehow less than men….Bridges – and the men who laughed at his comments, or said they weren’t that bad – would probably be horrified to think they were part of such a culture.” The report mentions that Mr Bridges had apologised and referred in his recent memoir to the pressure on men to conform to the “blokey culture”. The opinion piece also commented on several other issues, including then Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins’ role in making the incident public; “…. from the outside it looks more like she was she was using Dean’s experience to take down Bridges, for her own gain”, rather than focusing on the victim.

 

3. The second article complained of was a news story in the business section headed We made a law to stop sexism impacting pay – but we forgot about racism”. The article reports on the history of New Zealand’s internationally admired Equal Pay Act and its positive impacts. It goes on to provide information about difficulties still faced by other groups. “Income surveys show clearly the compounding impacts of bias. Pakeha women earn ten percent less than Pakeha men. Māori and Pasifika men earn less than them, and Māori women less again. Pasifika women earn the least, with a gap of 27 percent.” The article ends with a quote from the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Dr Karenina Sumeo: “The only grounds for bringing a complaint is sex. We don’t have disability, age, or ethnicity. These are big boulders of inequality. They get in the way of equity.”

The Complaint

4. Mr Hammond has complained in a general way that the author produces hateful, “man-bashing”, and misleading articles. On the first article he says that, because he was unimpressed with the “sexist comments” it contained, he sent a critical Instagram message to the author. She then publicly posted his message including his “handle”. The complainant says that because of this so called “doxxing” he has received a “tirade of abuse”. Note: “doxxing” is broadly understood to mean publishing, usually on the internet, personal address, and contact details of a person, to facilitate their harassment; a “handle” in this context normally means a username, nickname, or code name, especially on the internet.)

 

5. On the second article, in addition to his general complaint of “man-bashing” articles by the journalist concerned, he complains that the article is sexist. This is because it does not include information on male workplace injuries and fatalities, and about women being paid less because they “don’t face the same dangers in vocation”. He says the author “has misrepresented the facts and she is encouraging violence against men.”

 

6. He says he has received no response from Stuff apart from being “doxxed” by the author. He asks the author to formally apologise; and for her to suffer “serious consequences” for the “illegal doxxing”.

 

The Response

7. Bernadette Courtney, Editor in Chief, Newsrooms responded on behalf of Stuff. She regretted Stuff’s failure to respond to Mr Hammond’s complaint and intended to express regret for that to Mr Hammond.

 
8. The article dealing with the Bridges/Dean incident was published on the day following Judith Collin’s release of information about the issue. The editor said that the piece was clearly marked as opinion and was quite evidently an opinion piece. It included information and comment on sexual harassment in the workplace; the quandary women are placed in when responding to such situations; relevant research on the topic; and covered Mr Bridges’ own personal regrets. It also questioned whether the incident was used by the former Leader of the Opposition, Judith Collins for political gain. This showed the piece included a range of views.


9. The editor totally rejects that this opinion piece “encourages violence against men. The piece deals with the impacts of harassment on women, and counters stereotypes by quoting research saying most men aren’t in fact sexist.”

10. On the issue of alleged “doxxing”, the complainant put a comment on the reporter’s personal Instagram account. The editor explains that this was one of many abusive messages the reporter received that day. On-line abuse is a prevalent problem now faced by Stuff reporters, especially female staff. The reporter posted the message to Instagram as a way of highlighting the abuse received by female reporters, especially when writing about gender issues.

11. “Doxxing” normally involves posting someone’s home address and personal phone number, to facilitate visits or other harassment. In this case the reporter posted the complainants Instagram “handle”, only after checking it was not his real name. No evidence was provided of the abuse suffered. In the editor’s view, the complainant himself sent gender abuse to the Stuff reporter, who was simply doing her job.

 
12. The second article complained of, published on 3 December 2021, was a news feature about gender and race discrimination and the failure of the Equal Pay Act to include race as a ground for pay equity action. The article is based on government research, and information from other experts. The editor points out that a large part of the article focusses on disadvantage for men, in particular Māori and Pasifika men. The article is not “man-bashing” but solid, issues-based reporting.

13. In summary, the editor says the complaints are baseless.

The Discussion

 

14. Mr Hammond has complained under the headings of accuracy, fairness and balance, comment and fact and confidentiality. His complaints seem to be in two areas: content; and the “doxxing” issue.

 
15. The first article focusing on the Bridges/Deans incident was an opinion piece and clearly marked as such. The complainant has provided no evidence that there were incorrect facts in the article. In the Council’s opinion the article was well within the bounds of legitimate comment. The complainant’s views clearly differ widely from the those expressed in the article. In our view it is useful and healthy for reasonably expressed differences of opinion on both sides of an issue to be exposed though as an opinion piece there was no requirement for any differing view or “balance” in this piece. There was no breach of our principles in the content of the article.

16. Mr Hammond also complains he was “illegally doxxed”, by having his comments on the author’s 17 November article along with his Instagram “handle”, posted on-line by the reporter. As a result, he says he received abusive comments in return. He has not provided any examples of the comments. He, along with many others, chose to post critical and potentially offensive comments onto the author’s personal Instagram account. She responded by posting his and other comments publicly. She took care to ensure only his “handle”, and not his personal contact details were posted, in accordance with Stuff’s policies. As far as we are aware, internet activity such as reposting comments is not illegal, nor is social media place where privacy can be expected. We can see no justification for upholding a complaint on this matter, whether on privacy or other grounds.

17. In this particular case, given all the circumstances, the Council does not uphold the complaint on “doxxing”. But the Council hopes that media will keep under review their rules and practice for journalists using social media in the course of their work. Under pressure it may have immediate appeal for high profile journalists to argue on social media with individuals who criticise their reporting. However, we note that it is important that journalists take into account their privileged access to a wide audience through print, online or social media, and their consequent power to cause harm when using social media in relation to individuals who disagree with them.

 
18. On the second article of 3 December, a news report about pay equity, Mr Hammond appears to be unhappy on general grounds that the journalist continues to produce “man-bashing”, “misandrist” copy. It is hard to see why Hammond singles out the author for personal attack, rather than arguing the issues at stake. This approach does not provide useful support for his complaint.

 
19. The Council agrees with the Editor that the article of 3 December on pay equity is a solid piece of issues-based reporting. It highlights the fact that although some progress has been made, there is more work to be done on the Pay Equity Act. This could include adding race as a ground for pay equity claims for disadvantaged groups such as Māori and Pasifika men and women. This was a useful piece of public interest journalism. We can see no breaches of the Principles.

20. On Stuff’s failure to respond to the complaint, the editor, in her response to the Council, says she will apologise for no one getting back to Mr Hammond.

21. The complainant has raised several overlapping issues of content, and of alleged “doxxing”, under the headings set out in paragraph 14 above. The Council does not uphold the complaint on any of those grounds.

 

Media Council members considering the complaints were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Judi Jones, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Alison Thom, Reina Vaai and Tim Watkin.

 

Jo Cribb took no part in the consideration of this complaint.

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