LEIGH BOWNESS-BARKER AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 3210

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2022

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: New Zealand Herald

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

Overview

On 27 October the New Zealand Herald published the story Covid 19 Delta Outbreak: ‘Scam’ anti-lockdown hikoi stopped at Mercer boundary after overnight standoff.  The article outlines how police stopped hikoi members at the Southern Auckland checkpoint and were disappointed at the behaviour of the group of protestors.  The protesters claimed to be heading to Waitangi.  A Northland Māori leader is quoted as not wanting them to come. 

The article then explains why the protestors want to go to Waitangi: it is where anti-vaccine activist Sue Grey was speaking.  Grey is quoted from a livestreamed video as saying the protestors at the southern border were unhappy and frustrated and that the protestors should block the police. 

The Waikato Mayor is quoted as calling for the protestors to go home and a description of the traffic delays caused because of the protest is included.

Photos of the protestors and a four-minute video of their demands are included. 

The article concludes with a description of the protestor’s camp and actions, and a quote from Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei deputy chair stating that the people of Auckland do not support the protest at any time as it puts them at risk of lengthier costly lockdowns because to the misguided actions of a few

The hikoi took place at the time checkpoints were in place at Auckland’s borders and travel into Auckland was restricted to essential travel only.

The Complaint

Leigh Bowness-Barker complains that the article is in breach of Principle One: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance because it does not include any details from the hikoi organisers’ press release and instead includes statements from three people opposed to the event and that their statements included are factually incorrect. She asks why the reporter did not speak to more people (other than Sue Grey) who supported the hikoi. 

She argues that the article claims that people were holding signs ‘’clearly stating they were protesting against the current Covid lockdown’’, yet none of the photographs show that and that the hikoi was not an anti-lockdown protest.

She states that the phrase ‘’the group claim to be heading to Waitangi” is inaccurate.  There is clear evidence and proof that the group were heading to Waitangi, as such the use of the word ‘’claim’’ is inaccurate.

She also argues that the phrase ‘’have been told they are not welcome there by local Māori leaders” is inaccurate because those from the hikoi that made it to Waitangi were welcomed onto the marae.

She disputes that the convoy was around 50 vehicles carrying 100 people as stated in the article, instead claiming she counted in a video of the event 65 cars, and 130 people.  

She questions the statement from the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei deputy chair. Picking up on the statement “at any time” she notes if the hikoi had happened before Covid, it would therefore not have put people at risk. His reasoning was therefore invalid.

She also complains that the headline is not accurate and does not reflect the story (Principle Six). Using the phrase “Covid 10 Delta Outbreak” in the heading is unfair and misleading because the hikoi has no links to Covid. The use of the word ‘’scam’’ in the heading is ‘’highly inaccurate and misinforms the reader.”  She asked whether the Māori leader who is quoted as saying the hikoi was a scam had researched what the hikoi was actually about. 

She concludes by stating that she understands that the NZ Herald have received substantial sums of money from the Government to advertise their Covid-19 campaign and because of this the Herald are reluctant to accurately report anything counter to that campaign.  She states that through her experience of marketing, editorial content can be ‘bought’ through advertising.  This would be a breach of Principle 10: Conflicts of Interest. 

And that there is no evidence that the hikoi was prohibited.

The Response

The Herald responds to the complaints against Principle One (accuracy, fairness, and balance) as such:

  • Hikoi members at the Mercer check point were approached for comment but declined to be interviewed.  To ensure balance, the comments made by the group members at the site are included in video footage. Readers can hear the unfiltered opinions of the marchers in their own words. 
  • Several hikoi members at Mercer held signs clearly stating they were protesting the COVID lockdown.  The Herald acknowledges that the hikoi organisers (the SHOT movement) have a range of disparate beliefs but argues that the whole group attempted to breach the police checkpoint indicating a resistance to Covid lockdown requirements. A press release from SHOT objects to police checkpoints as part of alert level restrictions. 
  • The group stated their intention was to travel to Waitangi.  The statement is accurate.
  • Māori leaders are accurately quoted.  The complainant may disagree with their opinions, but their quotes are accurate. 
  • The Herald’s visual journalist was present at the gathering and filmed video and photographic evidence of the group size.

In response to the complaints about Principle Six (headlines and captions):

  • The headline accurately conveys comments made by a Māori leader in a press release describing the hikoi as a scam.
  • All articles related to Covid are labelled as such. 

Regarding the suggestion that the Herald has been bought off by the Government (Principle 10), the Herald responds that this is ‘’frankly laughable and completely incorrect”.  Editorial content cannot be bought by advertising as she contends.  The article was not presented as sponsored content because it was not. 

The Herald also notes that at no time did the article suggest the hikoi was illegal. 

Further correspondence

In further correspondence Ms Bowness-Barker said the article focused on one small part of the Hikoi, the part at Mercer, as though it was the whole hikoi. The hikoi as a whole event had not been fairly or accurately reported on.

The Herald agreed that this was the focus of this article and gave links to coverage of other aspects by the Herald.

Ms Bowness-Barker countered that these articles also had a negative spin and as some were only posted in the regional news section they cannot claim to balance the national story she complained about.



The Discussion

Principle One: Accuracy fairness and balance.

We note here that the text article does not stand alone but should be read in conjunction with viewing the video.

Having carefully reviewed the material provided, the Media Council can see no inaccuracy in the article. 

Although Ms Bowness-Barker says the hikoi had no links to Covid, the video clearly shows one of the protestors saying they had been told a lie that there is a virus out there, but they have ample evidence that that is fake.

It is also clear that the protestors claimed full rights to travel freely from Rotorua to Waitangi, despite the Police checkpoint at the border, which clearly places them as protesting against lockdown restrictions.

Nor is it unbalanced; indeed, the readers can easily see and hear the views of protestors in the video, despite them being unwilling to talk with journalists. 

The Media Council notes that article could have been strengthened by including a statement that the protestors chose not to comment when approached by the journalist. 

Principle 6: Headlines

The headline is not inaccurate and clearly conveys the focus of the article, the stoppage of the hikoi at the southern boundary of Auckland.  The use of ‘’scam’’ is clearly in quote marks and accurately reflects what the spokesperson intended. 

Further, the Media Council can see no evidence of the Herald being ‘’bought off’’ to show the government’s Covid campaign in a positive light. 

The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Judi Jones, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Reina Vaai and Tim Watkin. 

 

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