EILEEN GOODWIN AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 3155

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2021

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Ruling Categories: Discrimination

Overview

CASE NO: 3155

RULING BY THE NEW ZEALAND MEDIA COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINT OF EILEEN GOODWIN AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD 

FINDING: INSUFFICIENT GROUNDS TO PROCEED

DATE: DECEMBER 2021 

The New Zealand Herald ran a Listener column on November 14, 2021, headlined Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Bill Ralston - What to do about anti-vaxxer friends.

Eileen Goodwin complained that the article included the description of the non-vaccinated as becoming “non-people”. This was inflammatory, divisive, unacceptable and could provoke violence. Labelling people as less than human was generally a precursor to violence and hatred. 

She believed the column breached Media Council Principle 7 (discrimination and diversity) by placing gratuitous emphasis on the health status of the unvaccinated, including those who were medically unable to have the Pfizer vaccine.

Herald head of premium content Miriyana Alexander said the columnist was entitled to his opinion. He had explained his thinking and did not whip up hatred, stir division or encourage violence.

The Media Council notes that the column was clearly marked as opinion. The writer said many people he knew would no longer associate with the un-vaccinated – “It’s harsh, but these anti-vaxxers will become non-people.”

The Council finds the phrase “non-people” was used descriptively – the writer stated what may happen to unvaccinated people. Whereas the significant majority of New Zealanders will have all sorts of rights and privileges, those who have not been vaccinated will not have the rights and privileges of other New Zealand people. To that extent they are going to be in a different category from other people.  Calling them “non-people” in that context is just to emphasise that point. Rather than endorsing or advocating the concept, the writer said it was harsh.

The column made the factual point that under the new traffic light Covid management system, unvaccinated people would not be able to do many of the things that the majority, who were double vaccinated, would be able to do.

The complainant cited Media Council principle 7. This states:

 Issues of gender, religion, minority groups, sexual orientation, age, race colour or physical or mental disability are legitimate subjects for discussion where they are relevant and in the public interest and publications may report and express opinions in these areas. Publications should not, however, place gratuitous emphasis on any such category in their reporting. 

The Media Council does not believe the article’s discussion of vaccination status placed gratuitous emphasis on any of the issues mentioned.

There were insufficient grounds to proceed.

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