JEREMY NIMMO AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD
Case Number: 3236
Council Meeting: March 2022
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Balance, Lack Of
Apology and Correction Sought
Headlines and Captions
The New Zealand Herald published an article on February 26, 2022, headlined Russia invades Ukraine: Defiant final words as all Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island are killed. The following day it published another story reporting a statement by the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine that said the defenders may still be alive.
Jeremy Nimmo complained that the Herald had reported widely disproved lies that the soldiers on the island had been killed by Russia, that there were 11 or 12 on the island (there were 82, he said) and that they made some kind of ludicrous propaganda statement before making a last stand.
The Media Council can see no basis for this complaint. The first report was based on a statement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and a recording of communications between a Russian ship and the soldiers on the island. As the island had been lost he believed the soldiers, who had defied the Russians, had all been killed. The President’s comments were taken at face value and appropriately attributed. It was clear this was not and could not be immediately verified.
The following day, after Russian media reported the soldiers had been taken captive, the Ukraine State Border Guard Service acknowledged the soldiers may still be alive. This was also reported by the Herald.
It is often said that truth is the first casualty of war. Facts can be hard to pin down as battles rapidly unfold and reality can be clouded by poor communications, misinformation, spin and propaganda. Journalists often have little option but to report the protagonists’ claims and counterclaims and attempt to verify the facts when and where they can.
It would be wrong to hold publications at fault every time they report a politician’s mistaken claims and in this instance it certainly hasn’t been established the New Zealand Herald reported “widely disproved lies.” If the story had been left unchallenged there may have been a basis for the complaint, but what was effectively a quick correction, through a subsequent story, means that any basis for criticism was removed.
There were insufficient grounds to proceed.