IAN FROGGATT AGAINST WAIKATO TIMES / STUFF

Case Number: 2990

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Waikato Times

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. Ian Froggatt complains about the story Conspiracy group shown the door at Hamilton community centre which was published on Stuff’s website December 9, 2020.

2. He says it breaches Principle 1: Accuracy, fairness and balance and Principle 4: Comment and fact.

The Article

3. The story says a conspiracy theorist Mark Thompson, who was appealing to “patriots” to help bring down the Government, was barred from talking at the Western Community Centre.

4. The self-described training event was part of a nationwide speaking tour dubbed “Beyond Politics” and urged attendees to take action against a range of issues – such as 5G technology, vaccines, environmentalism and satanic ritual abuse – with the ultimate aim of bringing down the Government.

5. The Community Centre staff who took the booking were given few details about the nature of the gathering. The centre cancelled the booking after learning more about the event, and observing concern expressed by people including veteran local body politician Dave Macpherson.

6. The story says:

“When asked if the ban was censoring free speech, Macpherson said in the aftermath of yesterday’s report on the Christchurch mosque shooting “we need to be careful about giving these people focus. I’d say there are some things that are dangerous to democracy and to our communities.

He said he could not support the right of people with conspiratorial views, “having the right to use facilities funded by our communities”.

7. The story goes on to say:

“When asked if the ban was censoring free speech, Macpherson said in the aftermath of yesterday’s report on the Christchurch mosque shooting “we need to be careful about giving these people focus. I’d say there are some things that are dangerous to democracy and to our communities.

He said he could not support the right of people with conspiratorial views, “having the right to use facilities funded by our communities”.

“Fifty-one people were killed and dozens others gunned down at Masjid An-Nur, also known as Al Noor Mosque, and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch on March 15, 2019.

The royal commission report on the Christchurch mosque attacks found the gunman had unsupervised access to the internet and started using the 4chan internet message board – a forum for far-right messages and other objectionable material – at age 14.”

The Complaint

8. The crux of Mr Froggatt’s complaint is his objection to the content outlined in paragraphs 6 and 7 above.He says the reporter should not have introduced this information, because Mark Thompson and people attending the meeting should not be linked to the mosque killer.

9. Mr Froggatt says: “Specifically, it is my view that the inclusion of the paragraph … has had the effect of “distorting by wrong or improper emphasis” any link or commonalities between the mosque killer and the group of citizens wishing to peacefully meet”.

10. Mr Froggatt says the fact the Royal Commission report had been released the day before the story was an ‘arbitrary link’ at best.

11. He contends that Stuff deliberately included the ‘totally unrelated’ paragraphs to smear and slander ‘the group’ by conflating them with a mass murderer.

12. He asks Stuff to remove the paragraphs, apologise to the group and state publicly they were not intending to draw any similarities between law abiding citizens exercising their rights and a mass murderer.

The Response

13. Waikato Times news editor Wayne Timmo responds on behalf of Stuff, as the story originated from theTimes.

14. His response to the crux of Mr Froggatt’s complaint, is that the reference to the Royal Commission was relevant as it was made by veteran city councillor Dave Macpherson.

15. Mr Timmo says to not include Mr Macpherson’s observation and his concerns would be disingenuous to readers and would contradict the Journalistic Code of Ethics by ‘suppressing relevant, available facts’.

16. Mr Timmo says: “In short, to not include the reference to the obvious major news story about extremism that week when raised by a city leader in this context would be close to deliberately obfuscating for the benefit of Mr Thompson’s group and beliefs”.

17. Mr Timmo says: “Stuff isn’t saying Mr Thompson had an intention to perform an act of mass murder, but in the context of the timing of the release of the report and its contents, it is strongly in the public interest to point out a person [is] advocating secret and ‘special’ actions against others in this country”.

The Decision

Principle 1: Accuracy fairness and balance

18. The Media Council acknowledges Mr Froggatt’s concern that Stuff’s inclusion of Dave Macpherson’s comments on the Christchurch mosque attack raised questions around the relevance of those comments to Mr Thompson's group. Based on the article there seem to be clear differences between the two and accuracy on these distinctions matters.

19. However, it was not Stuff who made the link, but a senior councillor. It is critical for elected representatives to be able to express their views and for media to be able to report them.

20. What’s more, the Media Council rejects Mr Froggatt’s allegation that the content he objects to was included deliberately by Stuff to slander ‘the group’, which we take to mean Mr Thompson and potential attendees.

21. Our view is that the paragraphs were included after a city councillor made a relevant observation about the release of the Royal Commission’s report as noted in the story. The Media Council considers there is sufficient information within the story for readers to understand the context of the councillor’s observation, and therefore the relevance of the reference to the mosque attack. The reader would not have thought that it was being suggested that Mr Thompson was planning a massacre. The point was that the dissemination of conspiracy theories can have severe consequences.

22. The complaint under Principle 1 is not upheld

Principle 4: Comment and fact

23. The Media Council notes that Mr Froggatt’s complaint focusses primarily on Principle 1. We can find no argument within his complaint that would result in an uphold under Principle 4.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.


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