Case Number: 2976

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2020

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Unfair Coverage


On October 13, Stuff published the article Candidate uses photo of 11-year-old girl for anti-rainbow ‘smear campaign'.The article outlines how Elliot Ikilei of the New Conservative Party shared a Facebook post using the image of 11-year-old Charli Bickerton. The image was taken from a children’s news site where Charli had gone behind the scenes at a drag show for kids. Stuff reported the Facebook post commented on the inappropriateness of heavy make-up on children and inferred that drag queens were ‘grooming’ children. Charli’s parents are interviewed in the article because they are upset that their daughter’s name and image have been used by a politician for an anti-rainbow ‘smear campaign.’

The Complaint

Elliot Ikilei complains that the article was inaccurate because he did not make any negative references to sexual orientation and has only spoken out about adult entertainment – in this case drag queen entertainment – as a sexualized style of adult entertainment which was being presented as acceptable for children.

He also argues that references to him ‘using’ the photo are inaccurate. He states he just attached the link to the children’s news site.

He also states that the word ‘smear’ used in the article is inaccurate because nothing in his Facebook post is inaccurate. To him, drag queen entertainment (in the same way that horror, gore, porn is) is an unacceptable form of adult entertainment for children.

The Response

Ben Heather replies on behalf of Stuff. He states that article is accurate and that the comments made in the post were negative towards the rainbow community. He refers to the specific comments Mr Ikilei made about drag queens’ grooming the new generation. These, he argues, refer to drag queens’ ‘propagating LGBQTI+ ideologies’, not the broader sexualizing of young people without reference to their sexuality as Mr Ikilei suggests. Mr Heather states that this statement feeds indirectly into the myth of homosexuals, in drag or otherwise, grooming and recruiting children.

Mr Heather refutes Mr Ikilei’s claim that he did not ‘use’ the photo. In linking to the article, which contained the photo, he cannot negate the use of the photo, which was clearly visible on his public, political Facebook account.

Regarding the use of ‘smear’, Mr Heather concludes that this was the opinion of Charli’s parents and was clearly identified as such. He states that Mr Ikilei is entitled to his opinion that their child was being sexualized just as they are that she was not.

The Discussion

While not stated in the complaint, at question is Principle 1: Accuracy: publications should be bound at all times by accuracy…. and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission.

The complainant identifies three instances of what he considers to be inaccuracies: that he did not cast negative aspersions on the LGBQTI+ community with his Facebook post as stated in the article; that it was inaccurate to report that he ‘used’ the young girl’s photo; and that he did not ‘smear’ the young girl’s name and image.

While the Media Council did not see the original full Facebook post, the article quotes directly from it including the inference about drag queens grooming children. Mr Ikilei does not dispute these facts in his complaint. This statement does cast drag queens in a negative light and will likely to be viewed by any reasonable reader as an anti-rainbow statement. Rainbow communities include a wide range of identities including drag queens. As such, the Media Council can find no attempt by the publicationto deliberately mislead or misinform its readers.

Likewise, as Mr Ikilei deliberately linked the article that included the photo to his Facebook post, he did ‘use’ it. Again, Stuff cannot be seen to beto deliberately misleading or misinforming its readers.

The reference to the ‘smear campaign’ and misappropriation of the photo and girl’s name and image, were phrases and issues raised by her parents and are clearly identified as quotes. These are the views of the parents, not of Stuff. Again, there is no inaccuracy in the reporting.

The complaint is not upheld.

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


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