HANNAH MARSHALL AGAINST THE LISTENER
Case Number: 3334
Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2022
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Publication: The Listener
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters
The Listener published an article on October 1, 2022, headlined What has happened to us.
This was an opinion piece written by a teacher who was not allowed to continue in her job because she would declined to get vaccinated. It detailed her thoughts on the vaccine mandate, her skepticism about how serious Covid-19 was, her on-line research about the vaccine, her decision to join Voices for Freedom, her departure from school, other painful experiences, her involvement in the protest at Parliament and how, in her opinion New Zealand was now broken and scarred.
Hannah Marshall complained that the article breached Principles (1) accuracy, fairness and balance (4) comment and fact and (5) columns, blogs, opinion and letters.
“I believe this article fails to distinguish between opinion and fact. The article contains misinformation that is presented as fact and no effort is made by the Listener to assert that the information presented as factual is just an opinion. I do not think that sufficient effort has been made by the Listener to assert that the writer’s false information is not endorsed by the publication; and nor is it made explicit by the Listener that this information is untrue and misleading,” she said.
Ms Marshall mentioned several instances of false information.
- “During lockdown we were told we’d be fined if we tried to drive anywhere other than the supermarket or tried to talk to neighbours.”
- “Kids were being paid $50 to be vaccinated”
- “I knew the real reason for the mandates was to get people to become vaccinated.”
She said there were also examples where there was no clear distinction between factual information and opinion, such as the author’s comments on how serious the virus was and the side effects of the vaccine.
Ms Marshall said platforming disinformation was not presenting truth and accuracy - “It is disseminating dangerous rhetoric that will have a detrimental effect on your readers, the wider community and Aotearoa as a whole.”
She said the article was rife with misguided views and misinformation. The right to freely express opinion and the journalistic ideal of presenting a balanced and fair perspective is a pilar of good journalism and an essential component of democracy.
“However, it also journalism’s utmost ideal to strive for truth and accuracy. There is a fine line between presenting a perspective that is ‘balanced’ and presenting a perspective that is factually incorrect, informed by conspiracy, and ultimately harmful to the community,” said Ms Marshall.
Listener editor Karyn Scherer did not agree with the assertion that it had deliberately misled readers by not declaring that it did not support the views expressed. The article was clearly identified as an opinion piece.
The Listener published many opinion pieces covering a wide array of sometimes opposing views.
“We are not in the habit of stating which ones we agree with, and which ones we don’t, so I don’t believe our readers expect this. In fact, it would not be possible to do this, as we don’t actually hold any views as a publication.
“The Listener is a forum for debate. We cannot have debate without opposing views. I have also made it clear through my own by-lined opinion pieces that I support freedom of speech including “the right to be wrong.”
Referring to the three “false” statements noted above Ms Scherer said the first was a reasonable summary of what many people believed was expected of them. As for the second point, the author provided additional information that “led us to believe it was based on fact” and the third point was the author’s opinion about the Government’s motives.
Ms Scherer said it was clear this was an opinion piece, putting forward the author’s personal perspective on a topical issue. Readers were able to draw their own conclusion as to what these statements might or might not imply.
The Media Council accepts the point that this was an opinion piece in which the author wrote of her personal experience and perspective. Nothing has been shown to be false. The tone was rueful rather than angry or accusatory. It was an expression of personal belief and experience. The author may be misinformed, have minority views and espouse unpopular opinions - but that’s free speech.