JIM ROSE AGAINST RNZ
Case Number: 2961
Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2020
Verdict: Not Upheld
Publication: Radio NZ
Ruling Categories: Accuracy
1. Jim Rose complains about a video produced by Hex Works Ltd and published byRNZ on August 12, 2020 with the title TERFS - Alice Snedden’s Bad News. He considers there was a breach of Media Council Principles 1 (Accuracy, fairness and balance), and 4 (Comment and fact).
2. The Media Council does not uphold the complaint.
3. The video is one episode in an eight part series entitled Alice Snedden’s Bad News published online by RNZ in the podcast and series section of its website. It is described in its introductory material as a “Docu-comedy series that wrestles with some of the most confusing & contentious political & social issues confronting Aotearoa in 2020”, and also as “A broad range of interviews with experts explore these sensitive nuanced subjects, while Snedden wrestles with her own specific point of view and set of privileges.”
4. One focus of the episode is a conference entitled Feminism 2020 arranged by Speak Up For Women (SUFW). The conference was to have been held at Massey University in November 2019 but was cancelled, with health and safety concerns stated as the reason for cancellation. It was subsequently held at Parliament on 15 November 2019. In referring to the cancellation, Ms Snedden said “Petitions were signed, protests were held and Massey cancelled the event.” At a later point she said that it was open to a “private institution” to refuse to provide a platform for ideas it considered to be hate speech.
5. Mr Rose complains that during the video Ms Snedden describes Massey University as a private university. This is inaccurate. Massey is a public university governed by relevant legislation and required to provide and enhance academic freedom. If it had been properly described, the presenter would have had to discuss the balance between the cancellation and the university’s statutory duties.
6. The conference was cancelled for health and safety reasons and to state otherwise is to accuse the Vice-Chancellor of Massey University of lying – she had said that the only reason for cancellation of the venue booking was health and safety because of an online threat.
7. RNZ stated that, contrary to the complaint, Massey University was not described as a private university, but as a private institution. It says that while that was not entirely accurate “what she was conveying was that Massey still retained control over who it allowed to hire its venues for events. In the end, whether Massey was a private institutional (sic) or not was not a material fact which would have misled the audience’s understanding of what Ms Snedden was saying at that point in the video, namely that Massey could take a position on whether it hired its venues to a certain group or not.”
8. Mr Rose is mistaken in saying that Massey University was described as a private university. As he rightly states, there are no private universities in New Zealand (although there are private tertiary institutions similar to universities) and all New Zealand universities have obligations under the relevant statutes.
9. As RNZ concedes, it is not entirely accurate to describe Massey as a private institution. However the video was not a news report, where high standards of accuracy are required. It was described as a “docu-comedy”, appears to have been designed to entertain as much as to inform, and is clearly in a large part an expression of Ms Snedden’s opinion. The requirement is that material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate.
10. The Media Council does not consider that the legal status of Massey University is a material fact. Nor does it consider that there is any implication of dishonesty on the part of the Vice-Chancellor. The video was not directed at Massey’s decision to withdraw permission for the event, and while that decision is described in the context of opposition to the event, it is not stated either directly or by implication that the ideology behind the opposition had any influence. The possibility of violence is a legitimate factor to take into account when considering an organisation’s obligations under health and safety legislation, and the potential for violent protest was the obvious reason for Massey’s decision. The Council recognises that Ms Snedden said it was open to a private institution to refuse to provide a platform for hate speech, but this was very much an expression of her own opinion, and not a statement of fact. In addition, there is no consensus on the meaning of “hate speech”, which seems to cover a range from mild offensiveness to incitement to violence.
11. The complaint is not upheld.
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 and Christina Tay.
Tim Watkin took no part in the consideration of this complaint.