MARGARET MOORE AGAINST RNZ
Case Number: 3389
Council Meeting: February 2023
Decision: Not Upheld
Publication: Radio NZ
Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
- Radio New Zealand published a story on October 18, 2022, headlined PM Jacinda Ardern says funding for school Shakespeare festival to continue. Margaret Moore complained the article was not accurate, fair or balanced and was therefore in breach of Media Council’s Principle (1).
- The article reported the then Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as saying funding for a school Shakespeare programme would continue, stepping in after Creative New Zealand declined it. It reported that Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand’s application for $31,000 was declined by Creative New Zealand which said, “the proposal did not demonstrate the relevance to the contemporary art context of Aotearoa in this time and place and landscape.”
- The centre is behind the annual Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival where students from high schools around Aotearoa perform scenes from the bard’s plays.
- The story noted Creative New Zealand’s decision led to accusations it was trying to “cancel” Shakespeare, though it said other proposals simply aligned better with its priorities.
- It reported that the Prime Minister was committed to making sure the programme continued and was seeking to have it funded through the Ministry of Education. There was also further comment from then Education Minister Chris Hipkins that the ministry would provide support to ensure the Globe Centre’s work would continue.
- The story included comment from a student who said participation in the festival had changed the trajectory of his life and comment from an author and high school English and drama teacher who said Shakespeare remained relevant as he was an exemplar of the best of English literature.
- Margaret Moore complained the article beached Media Council Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance.
- It clearly gave the impression that:
- Creative NZ’s decision put the Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival at risk.
- The Prime Minister’s intervention was needed to ensure the festival continued.
- Creative NZ’s decision was based primarily on Shakespeare’s lack of relevance to contemporary New Zealand.
- These impressions were inaccurate, unbalance and misleading:
- As widely canvased since October 18 (by Spinoff and RNZ’s The Detail) the festival was never at risk of cancellation.
- The funding application was only for 10 per cent of the Globe Centre’s budget (for an executive assistant and succession planning), not to fund the whole festival.
- The comments attributed to Creative NZ were those of a strategic advisory panel engaged by Creative NZ, not the view of the decision-making Arts Council.
- Ms Moore acknowledged RNZ published follow-up stories which went some way to clarifying the story, but the October 18 article was disappointing in its lack of accuracy. It appeared the story was not properly researched and that the views had not been sought from Creative NZ and other interested parties prior to publication.
- Radio New Zealand said the article highlighted the cyclical nature of news on a developing story.
- It clearly reported the Prime Minister’s disagreement with the decision by Creative NZ to decline the funding application and the move to provide funding from the Ministry of Education. RNZ also noted that it reported the funding decision was reported as having been made by Creative NZ and not the Arts Council as the complaint suggested.
- It also reported that the Arts Council would not be available for comment until later that day and comments from the council chair were reported later.
- RNZ said a critical factor in the story was Creative NZ’s delayed response to repeated invitations to provide comment. It finally issued a statement a day after this story was published. Their chairperson was interviewed on Morning Report and this was reported on separately on the RNZ website.
- RNZ acknowledged the story may have been flawed. “While a significant amount of the commentary indicated that Creative NZ had declined the funding application for the operation of the Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival, we now know that this was not strictly the case, but clearly the impact of declining the Globe Centre’s application was to put that festival at risk.”
- RNZ further acknowledged a “possible minor inaccuracy” in the story’s first sentence which read:” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says funding for a school Shakespeare programme will continue, stepping in after Creative New Zealand declined it.”
- Funding for the school programme was not declined. Funding was declined for the Globe Centre, which runs the programme. This inaccuracy was not material to the overall thrust of the item.
- As for the comment that “the proposal did not demonstrate the relevance to the contemporary art context of Aotearoa” this came from a Creative NZ advisory panel and it was disingenuous to suggest Creative NZ could divorce itself from these comments.
- The main point of the article was the Prime Minister’s announcement that the Government, through the Ministry of Education, would make up the funding shortfall. It did not purport to be a thorough examination of the entire issue or a full documentation of everything that occurred.
- The Media Council notes the complaint focussed on one story relating to Creative NZ funding decision which was said to have threatened a long-running and highly regarded school Shakespeare festival.
- This had been a matter of some concern which was quickly allayed that morning when the Prime Minister said she disagreed with Creative NZ’s decision and was committed to making sure the festival programme continued.
- The Council is pleased to see that RNZ has readily acknowledged problems with this article when it indicated that Creative NZ had declined funding for the festival when it had, in fact, declined other funding support for the Globe Centre.
- This was a minor mistake, but understandable given the Prime Minister’s commitment to continue funding the festival. RNZ was also remiss in not saying in this article that it had sought and was waiting comment from Creative NZ.
- Creative NZ’s position was made clear the next day. The Media Council sees no error on the part of RNZ. There was a delay in getting all the information. If Creative NZ had responded more quickly it could have been expected that a more balanced story would have been published more quickly.
- What happened with this story reflects the nature of the news business where the narrative develops and changes as new information comes to light and adds layers of complexity to any subject.
- Media Council Principle 1 states in part “Publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance, and should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission.”
- While there were problems with this article, which RNZ has acknowledged, the council can see no indication that it deliberately misled or misinformed readers.
Decision: The complaint is not upheld.
Council members considering the complaint were the Hon. Raynor Asher (chair); Jo Cribb, Rosemary Barraclough, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Judi Jones, Scott Inglis, Tim Watkin, Alison Thom, Jonathan Mackenzie, Ben France-Hudson.