JACK HENDERSON AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2883

Council Meeting: MARCH 2020

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

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

Overview

On January 25, 2020 Stuff published an opinion column written by Duncan Garner headlined Spare us the smiling drivel, Jacinda.

Jack Henderson complains that the editorial breaches Principle 1: Accuracy fairness and balance.

 

The Column

The column begins “So the PM wants to be relentlessly positive in a factual campaign run by Facebook's rules. Pass me a giant sick bag and send me a second one just in case”.

The column repeats that the PM wants to run a ‘relentlessly positive’ election campaign.

Mr Garner says “it’s patronising and controlling and no one should buy it”.

He also says: How can anyone expect a warm Milo of a debate when this Government has refused to measure itself properly at a public service level. Truth is, a factual debate is the last thing Jacinda Ardern should be calling for.”

The column concludes: “Can someone show me the results please. Then I can be relentlessly positive. Until then the gloves are off and the game is on. Now let's all do a group selfie, smile and say happy times please after me!”

The Complaint

Mr Henderson says the “article” contains a “falsehood which if left unchallenged will distort the result of the 2020 election”.

Mr Henderson refers to a Stuff article which he says accurately states “(The) Facebook Ad Library Report, will mean the public can see which voters Labour is targeting and roughly how much money it is spending on the Facebook ads”

He says seeing “which voters Labour is targeting and roughly how much money it is spending on the Facebook ads” is nothing like “So the PM wants to be relentlessly positive in a factual campaign run by Facebook's rules”.

He says Mr Garner has made a false claim, Stuff is liable for it, and should withdraw the “article” and apologise to readers.

The Response

Grant Shimmin, Stuff news director for opinion, replied that the column had been published 8 months out from the election.He says: “To suggest it will ‘distort the result’’ of this year’s general election is to give it a weight it simply does not have.

Mr Shimmin says suggesting the election result would be distortedbrings an element of absurdity to proceedings".

Mr Shimmin says “Realistically, Mr Henderson’s complaint relates only to the last four words of the sentence, “run by Facebook’s rules”, because it had already been widely reported that Ms Ardern wanted to run a positive, factual campaign.”

Mr Shimmin says “If there is any suggestion of an error here, it is that Mr Garner has referred to what is essentially a set of guidelines as ‘rules’.However, he says suggesting the column is then predicated on a falsehood is “stretching the point way too far”.

Final comment

Mr Henderson provided a final comment which responded directly to Mr Shimmin’s comment that

suggesting the election result would be distorted"brings an element of absurdity to proceedings".

Mr Henderson says “This statement is about how the article, being of a false nature, at this point in the campaign establishes a trend of fake news which is not the job on the news media to do. His attempt to isolate the article is not sustainable. If 50 editors write similar responses to 50 similar opinion pieces along the same lines, 50 pieces of falsehood will have been allowed and a pattern established eight months before the election. This is opposite to the Editor's claim. Attack articles like this do not exist in a vacuum.”

He also says My main point is that Mr Garner is talking about the wrong thing when he makes accusations of the PM regarding Facebook rules. We as readers are left in no doubt that Mr Garner is trying to tell us that the PM has subscribed to some content-related rules, and spends the article attacking her over it.”

It concludes I do not believe the Editor has answered my criticisms of his contributor Mr Garner at all.”

The Decision

Analysis

Mr Henderson complains that the “article” breaches Principle 1 - Accuracy, Fairness and Balance.

As the “article” is an opinion column, Principle 4 (Comment and Fact) andPrinciple 5 (Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters) should also be considered.

Analysis of Principle 5 is simplest to deal with – this principle demands opinion should be clearly labelled as such. Garner’s column is clearly labelled as opinion.

Principle 5 also states that ‘requirements for a foundation of fact pertain”.

Principles 1 and 4 also examine the need for opinion based on fact.

The most applicable principle to this complaint is Principle 4.

It 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”.

Mr Henderson argues that Mr Garner got his facts wrong and highlights the column’s first line

“So the PM wants to be relentlessly positive in a factual campaign run by Facebook's rules”.

 

Stuff argues that Mr Garner got his facts right – bar the nuance of rules versus guidelines - and the sentence highlighted by Mr Henderson is clearly his opinion.

Decision

This complaint is not upheld.

The Media Council considers that Mr Garner’s view, while an exaggerated interpretation of the facts, and not palatable to Mr Henderson, is opinion based on fact. The column is clearly marked as opinion.

It has been widely reported that the PM wants to run a positive election campaign.

Mr Henderson makes the point in his complaint that “seeing ‘which voters Labour is targeting and roughly how much money it is spending on the Facebook ads’ is nothing like ‘So the PM wants to be relentlessly positive in a factual campaign run by Facebook's rules’.”

That is his opinion.

Mr Garner’s interpretation of Labour’s plan to follow the Facebook guidelines is different, but in the Council’s view, does not breach Principle 4.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Jonathan MacKenzie, Marie Shroff, Pravina Singh and Tim Watkin.

Hank Schouten stood down to maintain the public member majority.

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