LAWRENCE ROBERTS AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2894

Council Meeting: APRIL 2020

Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

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

Overview

Lawrence Roberts complained about a piece God defend New Narkland – hundreds call cops to dob in lock-down cheats published on Stuff on March 27.

Mr Roberts said in using the word Narkland the writer chose to denigrate those who wanted to do their bit to keep all safe. He also complained that balance and fairness were missing as the write “expends effort on curtain peeping and the like without weighing the consequences for a society that is not vigilant.” There was no discussion of the responsibility of all New Zealanders to exercise restraint and the tension between what is seen on one hand as the exercising of individual freedom and collective responsibility on the other.

In response Stuff noted that the piece was clearly tongue-in-cheek – a rare slice of humour among the vast number of serious stories Stuff had published on the coronavirus pandemic. Stuff later added the tag Opinion but noted that sentences such as “Reporters have already been reporting on reports from citizen reporters on reports of reported breaches” were a clear signal the reader was not reading a serious story.

Even without the Opinion tag the Media Council believes the piece would clearly be understood to be an opinion piece and a quasi-satirical dig at the propensity for some to report the misdemeanours of others.TheNew Narkland reference in the headline was a clear indicator of this. The fact that Covid-19 is a serious public health threat doesn’t mean that every word on the subject has to be in deadly earnest.There is scope for lightness and humour in every crisis as was demonstrated when the Prime Minister made her reassuring declaration that the Easter Bunny and tooth fairy were essential workers.

Further the Council notes that there are no requirements for balance and fairness in an opinion piece and that there was plenty of other published material that examined the lockdown rules from several points of view.

Finding

There are insufficient grounds to argue a breach of Media Council Principles and this complaint will not proceed.