Case Number: 2570

Council Meeting: MARCH 2017

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

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

The Complaint

John Wilkinson emailed the editor of Stuff News on 20 February 2017 asking why three months after the US Election result, Stuff was still using a sub-section heading “US Election” in the World section of Stuff.

Mr Wilkinson complains that there was no election in the USA at the time of the articles in question. The use of the heading (known as a ‘strap’) was “a lie”. In addition, when you read the articles under this section “they are all anti-Donald Trump articles”. He adds that given the articles were not about the election and yet headlined as US Election, they “are misleading at best and fake news at worst.”

When Stuff removed the strap and replaced it with “Donald Trump’s America”, Mr Wilkinson said this was “stupid and misleading”. The election was won by Mr Trump.

In further email exchanges with the editor, Mr Wilkinson suggests that the section be renamed “the Trump hate club” and calls the editor “a liar” and “a weasel”.

He believes Stuff has breached Press Council principles related to Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and Headlines and Captions.

The Response

Patrick Crewdson, editor, Stuff responded to the complainant on 21 February 2017 confirming that there was nothing fake about the news in that section – “they’re all valid stories.” However, Mr Crewdson acknowledges the point made by the complainant that the strap name was out of date and said they would revisit it. It was subsequently decided by Stuff to remove the US Election strap and replace with the strap, Donald Trump’s America.

The editor explained that with major news events, Stuff creates a sub-section with a strap reflecting the news event; in this case the US election. Its aim is to collate news stories about the news event under a single sub-section. The strap and sub-section was located under the Stuff World News section.

Stuff maintains a permanent archive. Therefore stories and sections do not disappear even after the relevant major news event has finished. This was an innocent oversight and not what Mr Wilkinson infers; that Stuff was denying the US election result.

The section strap was eventually removed and replaced with “Donald Trump’s America” to reflect articles which covered what the country might be like under Mr Trump’s Presidency.


The Discussion

There was an oversight with the sub-section strap ‘US Election’ not being removed after the US election was concluded.

When the matter was brought to the attention of Stuff by the complainant, the editor acknowledged the point and subsequently removed the strap.

The continued strap being accessible three months after the election result does not breach any of the principles Mr Wilkinson raises in his complaint. A reasonable reader would not have seen the continued existence of the strap as Stuff denying an election result. Most importantly, the articles under the strap were valid news stories. The Council agrees with the editor’s description of the oversight as “innocent”.

Mr Wilkinson has drawn a long bow between an innocent oversight and what he describes as “fake news”. The articles reflected global media coverage at the time of what might a USA might look like under his Presidency given his policies and views during the election campaign.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Marie Shroff, Mark Stevens, Vernon Small and Tim Watkin.


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