Case Number: 3490

Council Meeting: March 2024

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Radio NZ

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Headlines and Captions
Discrimination and Diversity

Ruling Categories: Bias

RNZ published a story on 25 January 2024, headlined Call for Casey Costello to be removed after ‘outrageous’ proposal for tax freeze on tobacco.

Geoff Neal complained the story is inaccurate and biased and breaches Media Council Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and Principle (6) Headlines and Captions.

Mr Neal says the headline is inaccurate. Only one opponent had called for the Associate Minister of Health’s resignation. This should not have been in the headline and if it was, it needed to be attributed to the one entity suggesting it.

Mr Neal said asking for advice from experts was not ‘outrageous’ and nor was a tax freeze on tobacco excise tax ever a ‘proposal’. The phrase ‘tax freeze on tobacco’ was politically charged terminology. Inaccurate language was also used in many other places in the article.

He complained that the article also lacked balance as it did not mention the negative consequences of increasing tobacco taxes. It also did not counter some of the arguments raised by those quoted in the article, did not mention the disgraceful leak from the public service and that articles on smoking consistently did not mention the huge negative impact of vaping.

RNZ said it did not agree with the gist of the complaint.

It said the headline was stated in the singular, i.e. “Call for Casey Costello to be removed” not “Calls” so the wording was in fact correct. The use of the word “freeze” was a reasonable connection to the wording of the article’s first sentence.

RNZ also stood by its use of the word “proposal” and cited another article published the same day in which the Ministry of Health clearly reported that the minister “...had proposed also to freeze the excise on smoking tobacco for three years.”

Comments critical of the minister were direct quotes attributed to the Health Coalition Aotearoa co-chairperson, Labour’s health spokesperson and the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation’s chief executive. RNZ had the right to report such views.

It said the complainant also mentioned matters which he would have preferred RNZ to include in the article. These were issues of editorial decision-making rather than standards and was not a breach of Media Council principles.

It is the NZ Media Council’s view that the thrust of the article was the reaction from the public health sector to the possibility of a freeze on future increases on tobacco excise and was not a full documentary on all the ramifications of different measures relating to smoking/vaping.

The NZ Media Council considers RNZ’s response answers points raised in this complaint relating to the headline and the use of the words “proposal” and “freeze”.  There is clear evidence that these descriptions are accurate.   As to the fact that the story did not cover all the points the complainant had wanted in the article, news stories cannot realistically cover every aspect of a subject on every occasion.  This does not automatically make them unfair or unbalanced.

The article was critical of the minister but there were no inaccuracies. There had been in fact a call for her resignation and there were outraged protests from experts whose quotes were clearly identified. Responses from the minister’s side of the argument were also set out.

The complaint has not presented evidence showing that the article or its headline were inaccurate or breached Media Council principles.

Decision: There were no grounds to proceed.



Lodge a new Complaint.



Search for previous Rulings.

New Zealand Media Council

© 2024 New Zealand Media Council.
Website development by Fueldesign.