GEORGINA DICKSON AGAINST STUFF
Case Number: 3190
Council Meeting: JANUARY 2022
Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Conflict of Interest
Headlines and Captions
CASE NO: 3190
RULING OF THE NEW ZEALAND MEDIA COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINT OF GEORGINA DICKSON AGAINST STUFF
FINDING: INSUFFICIENT GROUNDS TO PROCEED
DATE: JANUARY 2022
Stuff published an opinion piece on January 9, 2022, headlined I’m drawn to people, but this year I’ve been disgusted by the selfishness of some. The article included comment by the author that she was furious at how selfish people could be in refusing to get vaccinated when the science was clear that vaccines work. The column was written in the context of the author’s sister being particularly vulnerable, as she is immunocompromised following chemotherapy for breast cancer.
Georgina Dickson complained the article breached Media Council Principle 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance and Principle 4 (comment and fact).
She was particularly concerned by the following three paragraphs:
“…I felt utter contempt towards those people who’d lost their sense of community or any concern for others, who chose to prioritise themselves for the most misguided of reasons.”
“The science is clear: the vaccines work. Being vaccinated decreases the duration of the illness and the ability of the virus to replicate; the unvaccinated become a petri-dish growing new variants to spread. Being unvaccinated doesn’t make only you more exposed to the virus, it makes all of us more vulnerable.”
“…as a new year begins, I image I will continue to direct my anger towards the misguided minority.”
The complainant said these comments did not distinguish between the author’s opinion and fact, an important distinction as the author was not a doctor or scientist. Statements made were not accurate or backed up by science, the article lacked balance as it did not provide countervailing viewpoints.
The complainant added that the rhetoric used against the unvaccinated was cruel, inflammatory, and promoted social division, ostracism, hate crimes and violence against people who may have good reason to be unvaccinated.
She also cited two letters published in the British Medical Journal arguing against vaccine mandates or vaccinations for all and asked why they had not been referred to.
The Media Council notes this was an opinion piece which is covered by Principles 4 (comment and fact) and 5 (columns, blogs, opinion and letters).
Principle 4 states: A clear distinction should be drawn between factual information and comment or opinion. An article that is essentially comment or opinion should be clearly presented as such. Material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate.
Principle 5 states: Opinion, whether newspaper column or internet blog, must be clearly identified as such unless a column, blog or other expression of opinion is widely understood to consist largely of the writer’s own opinions. Though requirements for a foundation of fact pertain, with comment and opinion balance is not essential.
The Media Council finds that the article was labelled as opinion and clearly written in a style expressive of the writer’s opinion. The paragraph at the centre of the complaint is also clearly a statement of fact which is generally supported by the science and reflects official Ministry of Health advice. Letters in a medical journal expressing contrary views are statements of opinion, not peer reviewed scientific research. They do not prove the Stuff columnist’s opinions are not factually based.
Being an opinion piece there was no requirement for the author to provide countervailing views.
There were insufficient grounds to proceed.