HAMISH WILLIAMS AGAINST RNZ

Case Number: 3292

Council Meeting: JULY 2022

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Radio NZ

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact

Ruling Categories: Editorial Discretion
Misleading

Overview

On 7 June 2022 RNZ published a lengthy feature, with an accompanying video, about National Party Leader Christopher Luxon. It canvassed his background, views on a range of issues and comments about him from associates and commentators. The journalist posed the question: “Can a man some thought might join the Labour Party lead National to victory?”

Hamish Williams complained about the article, saying it lacked balance in two areas – Luxon’s “championing of the gay community” and his “commitment to sustainability”. There was plenty of evidence in the public domain that these claims were at best debatable, and at worst, untrue, for both Luxon personally and the National Party as a whole. For example, Luxon had voted against the Conversion Therapy Bill.

The part of the story that focused on climate change only quoted Luxon and Dame Anne Salmond, who sat on a board with him. Of more pertinence was the National Party’s opposition to even the most moderate plans to mitigate climate change, Williams said.

While Williams said he did not expect the piece to be word-for-word claim versus counterclaim, these claims went unchallenged and were reported as fact, he said.

RNZ responded that it appeared the complainant would have preferred additional material to be covered, but that did not mean that the story was inaccurate or unbalanced. Not every issue could be covered in such a wide-ranging story and interview, which focused as much on rebranding the National Party as on Luxon himself.  

In his formal complaint to the Media Council, Williams said that while he agreed with RNZ that not every aspect of every issue could be covered, RNZ had made the decision to mention the issues, but from only one side, with no comment, for example from the LGBTQ+ community, or reference to Luxon and National’s voting record or policy positions.

The Media Council notes that this lengthy article and its accompanying interview take the form of a backgrounder, designed to give readers a broad look at who Christopher Luxon is. It did not set out to be a detailed examination of every statement made and position taken, which would be impossible in a single story. The article can be seen as covering a long-running issue – whether Luxon will succeed as the National Party leader. Principle One: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, states in part: “Exceptions may apply for long-running issues where every side of an issue or argument cannot reasonably be repeated on every occasion” and the Council believes this article and its subject matter falls within that category. The story reported that Luxon had “championed… the rainbow community”, giving the example of achieving Rainbow Tick certification during his time at Air New Zealand, and that “environmentalists rate his climate change credentials”. Luxon’s and National’s positions on these issues have been covered extensively in other stories, so do not require in-depth analysis here to fulfil the requirements of Principle One. The matters complained about were just one part of a comprehensive article that looked at a wide range of Luxon’s opinions, and at times took him to task for having inconsistent positions, providing overall balance. No principles were breached.

Decision: There are insufficient grounds to proceed.

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