ERIC WONG AGAINST STUFF
Case Number: 3443
Council Meeting: 30 October 2023
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters
Headlines and Captions
Conflicts of Interest
Ruling Categories: Misleading
Stuff published an article in its travel section on 1 October 2023, headlined Ex-pat tales: the truth about life in Saudi Arabia according to a Kiwi who lives there.
The story was based on a response to a Stuff invitation to New Zealanders living overseas which asked for comment on the pros and cons of where they are living, the expense, how people use their spare time, favourite activities, sights to see and what they miss. It reported one woman’s comments without question, further inquiry, elaboration or comment from any other source.
Eric Wong complained the article was misleading, clearly implied it was safe to visit Saudi Arabia and that it should be considered a tourism destination despite travel advisory from many countries that highlighted the elevated risk of attacks against Westerners. The article was consistent with Saudi Arabia's campaign to launder its image, despite repeated human rights violations in the country.
Stuff responded this was a personal experience written as part of a long running series with templated questions for the recipient to respond to.
“We do not edit their answers. It is one person's opinion and not intended to be a deep dive into every country we feature. However, it's worth noting that as a news agency we have covered many stories regarding the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia over the years and continue to do so.”
The Media Council notes this was clearly a light-weight piece setting out one woman’s brief comments about her experience living in Saudi Arabia. There is no pretence that this is journalism as it obviously avoids serious or difficult subjects including war, terrorism or human rights issues, where criticism or even frank comment could have landed her in trouble with Saudi authorities.
It is a soft first-person story commonly run in travel sections which seldom mention the darker sides of countries that tourists might visit or set out the details of travel advisories which are readily available on-line.
The Council also notes that over time Stuff has reported on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia and its war on the Yemen. That provides a degree of balance.
Mr Wong has not advanced an arguable case to show a breach of Media Council Principles (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; (4) Comment and Fact; (5) Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters; (6) Headlines; and (10) Conflicts of Interest.
Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.