KATRINA BIGGS AGAINST MEDIAWORKS NEWSHUB

Case Number: 2852

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2019

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Mediaworks

Ruling Categories: Columnists
Discrimination
Offensive Language

Overview

On October 29, 2019 Newshub published an article titled Ryan Bridge: Kiwi vegan loonies are treasonous.Katrina Biggs complains that the article breaches several NZ Media Council principles.1.


1. Ryan Bridge: Kiwi vegan loonies are treasonous

A host of The AM show, Ryan Bridge, produced an opinion piece which was transcribed from an editorial segment he delivered during the October 29 broadcast of the AM show.In the piece he has suggested that vegans are “traitors” as their premise does not support the meat industry which he argues “keeps us housed and watered and fed” as a nation.Moreover, Mr Bridge asserts “This country was built off the back of farming and agriculture.To not eat the fruits of our labour is economic treason. They’re treasonous.”

The Complaint

2. Katrina Biggs initially complained to Newshub. The basis for the complaint related to the use of the words “vegan” and “treasonous” which were included in the headline.The complaint also referred to the use of the word “traitors” which was in the body of the article. The complaint was not upheld by Newshub and Ms Biggs was advised that she could then refer the complaint to this Council.

Ms Biggs has emphasised that she is not discussing the whole article but rather the inclusion of the words “traitors” and “treasonous” used within the article to describe vegans which “…can raise strong negative emotions amongst those who read them, which can result in violence.”

There is doubt in Ms Biggs’ mind about the article providing commentary akin to satire.She refers to the use of the words that form the basis of her complaint and asserts “…being a traitor and treasonous are justified actionable crimes against the state.”

Ms Biggs argues that Media Council principles: 1, 5 and 7 have been breached.[1]

There is a request by Ms Biggs for “an apology” and to not use the words “traitors” and “treasonous” in conjunction with vegans “in any published piece by the New Zealand media.”



[1] Please refer to the Analysis section.NZ Media Council principle 1 was not applied.NZ Media Council principle 4 has been applied.

The Response

4. As previously stated, the original complaint was lodged with Newshub and a response to the complaint was provided by Robert Dowd on behalf of the MediaWorks Standards Committee.

Mr Dowd has advised that the “article was transcribed from an editorial segment Ryan Bridge delivered during the 29 October broadcast of The AM Show.”

In the response to Ms Biggs’ complaint, there was reference to the Newshub digital article being “clearly designated as opinion” and the view that the article “…was recognisable as satire and, despite the vehemence of Mr Bridge’s viewpoint, was clearly humorous in tone.”

The article was also described as being “…provocative in a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek style and we are satisfied that it was not genuinely malicious or intended to incite hate or violence.”

Mediaworks advised they had nothing more to add to the response provided to the original complaint by Ms Biggs.

The Decision

5. In the complaint, Ms Biggs has referred to the following principles and considers that each of the following principles has been breached:

Principle 1: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance

Principle 5: Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters

Principle 7: Discrimination and Diversity

Ms Biggs does not relate her complaint directly to the specified principles listed above so an application of relevancy will be applied to reflect the provision within each of the listed principles.

The starting point is to consider principle 5 as this deals with the classification of ‘opinion’.Principle 5 states that any article that is written as an opinion ‘must be clearly identified as such’.The article which is the basis of complaint for this matter had been clearly marked as an ‘opinion’.Principle 5 also states “…with comment and opinion balance is not essential.”

Ms Biggs has referred to NZ Media Council principle 1 however after considering the application of this principle, the Council does not think that it applies in relation to this complaint.The Council will instead consider the application of Principle 4 ‘Comment and Fact’.As previously discussed under principle 5, within Principle 4 ‘An article that is essentially comment or opinion should be clearly presented as such.’NZ Media Council principle also requires that “Material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate.” There are some factual statements captured within the article.Ms Biggs’ complaint was focused on the words that she highlighted rather than the information about the meat industry.The opinion captured within the article is a reflection of the author and described by Mr Dowd as being “…clearly humorous in tone…the article was provocative in a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek style and we are satisfied that it was not genuinely malicious or intended to incite hate or violence.”

NZ Media Council principle 7 sets out the requirements relating to ‘Discrimination and Diversity. In the article, Mr Bridge states “…the percentage of Kiwis who are vegetarian or vegan remains at 3 percent.” The Council does not think that vegans would fall within the category of ‘minority group’ as set out under principle 7. Principle 7 also outlines the requirement that ‘Publications should not place gratuitous emphasis on any such category in their reporting.’The content of the article refers to “vegan loonies” and “vegans are like evangelical Bible Belt Christians from the United States” and as the complaint outlined reference has been made to vegans by Mr Bridge as being “traitors” and “treasonous” however, the Council would not consider these references as amounting to ‘gratuitous emphasis’.These are expressions of opinion by a radio show host in the context of the following, “The host’s editorial is a daily feature of the show and has the purpose of stimulating discussion around a particular subject.”

Decision/Summary

5. Principle 1: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance has not been established as being applicable in this complaint.

Principle 4: Comment and Fact. The article was clearly presented as an opinion.Not upheld.

Principle 5: Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters.The article was clearly labelled ‘opinion’.Not upheld.

Principle 7: Discrimination and Diversity.As stated in the analysis section above.The Council do not agree that vegans fall within a ‘minority group’. This opinion piece was written by a radio show host in a “lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek style” with no intention of being “malicious or intended to incite hate or violence.” In previous Council rulings we have said “No one has the right not to be offended.” Not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.