JENNY KIRK AGAINST MEDIAWORKS NEWSHUB

Case Number: 2825

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2019

Verdict: Not Upheld with Dissent

Publication: Mediaworks

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Headlines and Captions
Politicians
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Jenny Kirk contends that Newshub breached two New Zealand Media Council principles in a story headlinedKelvin Davis breaks from Labour, wants compulsory Te Reo in schools published on July 15, 2019.

The story, broadcast on television and published on the company’s website, newshub.co.nz, is based on an interview with Maori Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis, following a Government announcement of a $12 million initiative to aid learning te reo launched in April.

The story suggests that Mr Davis broke ranks with his party and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern by saying he wants te reo taught as a core subject in schools. The story also suggests that Mr Davis was off script when he made the comments as that is not the Government’s official line. Ms Ardern and her colleagues have been careful to avoid the words “compulsory” and “core subject” when discussing the issues about encouraging the use and uptake of the language.

The complaint was not upheld by a majority of Council members.

The Complaint

Jenny Kirk has complained about the story citing the Council’s Principles of Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and Headlines and Captions.

She says the use of the term “gone rogue” in the introductory paragraph, referring to Mr Davis, was “derogatory” because the word was frequently associated with characters of ill repute. She says, citing a transcript of the interview, that Mr Davis did not use the word “compulsory”.

She considers the story’s headline and opening sentence to be “misleading, inaccurate, unfair and unbalanced”

The Response

Newshub Broadcasting Standards Manager Robert Dowd responded, and said in a “scholastic sense” compulsory and core mean the same thing.

Responding to the complaint about the heading he said the Labour Party’s stance was for te reo to be universally available in schools but “Mr Davis wants te reo to be a compulsory subject in schools”. “Mr Davis’ position is a step beyond the Party line so it was accurate to say he was breaking rank with the Party.

Mr Dowd said he understood the complainant’s concern in relation to the phrase “gone rogue”. “However, when the article is considered as a whole, the phrase’s intended meaning is apparent. “Like ‘breaking rank’ it juxtaposes the position held by Mr Davis with the official position of the Labour Party. The article does not claim that Mr Davis has broken any rules or defied Party instructions.”

The Decision

The majority of the Media Council does not accept the complainant’s case that the story breached Media Council principles. The Council accepts Mr Dowd’s argument that, in the context of schooling, the terms core and compulsory are interchangeable when used in the context of individual subjects such as reading, writing, maths or this case te reo.

Simply put it is compulsory for students to study core subjects, there is no opting out. As associate Minister of Education, Mr Davis would be well aware that a core subject is by nature compulsory. The Council has little doubt that readers and viewers would be aware of this too.

However, the Council believes that the reporter could have served her audience better if she had used “compulsory” in place of “core” when she put the question to Mr Davis, to avoid any chance of confusion.

The Council agrees that the story was accurate when Mr Davis was described as breaking ranks with Labour and the Prime Minister, when he admitted that he would like Maori to be a core subject taught in schools as soon as possible. It appears he has gone a step further than his party and the Prime Minister.

Similarly the term “gone rogue”, while somewhat over blown, is not deemed to be derogatory when used in this context and generally fits within the theme of stepping over the party line. The Council believes that most readers would understand the meaning in the context of the story.

The Council does not agree that the story is misleading, inaccurate, unfair or unbalanced. Mr Davis’ qualified his comments that “people need to be brought along for the ride” before teaching te reo in schools is made a core subject and these comments were accurately reported in the story and provided balance and context.

The complaint is not upheld, by a majority.

Jo Cribb and Christina Tay dissented from this decision and would have upheld the complaint.

Liz Brown and Hank Schouten would have upheld the complaint as a breach of the Headline Principle.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

Rosemary Barraclough stood down to maintain a public member majority.