NICOLE EVANS AGAINST STUFF, NEWSHUB AND TVNZ
Case Number: 3473
Council Meeting: December 2023
Decision: Not Upheld
Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
- Nicole Evans complained about articles on the Newshub, Stuff and TVNZ websites from approximately 20-27 March 2023, covering the visit of Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, also known as Posie Parker, saying all three websites had breached Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance. The complaint is not upheld.
- Ms Evans examined 22 articles on the Newshub website, saying she believed Newshub deliberately misled the public about Ms Keen-Minshull for almost a week before her visit. Most of the articles called her an anti-transgender activist. Not one article described her as a women’s rights activist, which was how she was described on her website. Her Let Women Speak events were “a place for women to share concerns over the gender ideology being forced on us in the workplace, healthcare, public toilets, sporting and fitness arenas and in our children’s schools”, Ms Evans said. But nowhere was this view portrayed. Newshub focused on chaotic scenes in Australia, where Ms Evans said the trans-rights activists were the aggressors. Many people were given space to air their views against her, but very few in support of freedom of speech and none outlining her views in a balanced way. Only three of the 22 articles addressed free speech. The only time Ms Keen-Minshull’s voice was heard was when her rights were being infringed. There was no reason for her not to be allowed into New Zealand, Ms Evans said, and if this had been reported on in an unbiased way, “women of Auckland wouldn’t have had to endure the violence we experienced” in Albert Park.
- In a similar complaint to Stuff, Ms Evans identified 24 articles in the same period. She again complained about the use of the term “anti-transgender activist”. The stories focused on chaotic scenes in Australia where Ms Evans said transgender rights activists were the aggressors and did not cover Ms Keen-Minshull’s views. Many people who opposed her were given the chance to air their views. When discussing the merits of her case to be allowed in the country, Stuff again provided no facts about her views. Very little coverage was given to freedom of speech arguments. The coverage was not balanced, fair or accurate. It was biased scaremongering that stirred up violence, Ms Evans said.
- Ms Evans’ complaint to TVNZ followed similar lines. She found 22 stories from 19-26 March. Twenty of the articles described her as an anti-transgender activist. None described her as a women’s rights activist. Nowhere were her views clearly portrayed, Ms Evan said. Instead, TVNZ focused on events in Australia and the presence of neo-Nazis was mentioned in eight articles. Prior to Ms Keen-Minshull’s arrival, Ms Evans said she did not find one voice supporting her visit. Many people were given the chance to air views against Ms Keen-Minshull but only two articles discussed the importance of free speech. Even the article What are Posie Parker’s views and why are they so controversial? didn’t draw a coherent picture of her views. Ms Evans only found one direct quote from Ms Keen-Minshull “I’m utterly appalled that an elected politician or government department would want to prevent women from speaking about their rights and child safeguarding on the basis of false accusations. Women of New Zealand feel isolated and gaslit by a country that compels women to pretend that men can be women." That was the closest TVNZ came to representing her views but they were words expressed in anger over the mischaracterisation of her events, rather than genuinely seeking her views directly.
- Newshub said they had not identified any breaches of Media Council principles. Ms Keen-Minshull’s visit had been widely reported across a range of media outlets, so readers could reasonably be expected to be aware of other perspectives than those contained in Newshub’s articles. Balance should be judged on a number of stories, as every side of the issue could not be reported on each occasion. Balance was not judged by volume or column inches and Ms Keen-Minshull’s perspective was presented within Newshub’s coverage. The footage associated with many of the articles includes material in which Ms Parker was voicing her views as well as interviews with her supporters, providing readers with their perspectives.
- Stuff responded, thanking Ms Evans for her thoughtful feedback “on an issue which often hasn’t generated that.” Stuff stood by its reporting which it said was “judicious, accurate, fair, balanced, neutral and responsible”. Ms Keen-Minshull had described herself as a transphobe and was widely described in international media as an “anti-trans activist”. Ms Keen-Minshull’s views were reported by Stuff, as was the issue of free speech, Stuff said.
- TVNZ defended the anti-transgender rights label, saying her suggestion that trans women are sexual predators who pose a safety threat to girls in female bathrooms and describing being a transgender woman as a fetish are anti-trans views, not pro-woman ones. Men who wished to harm women might enter women’s toilets without claiming they were a woman, said TVNZ, providing a list of stories describing this situation. TVNZ gave examples of stories where Ms Keen-Minshull’s views were put, for example in the story What are Posie Parker’s views and why are they so controversial, where she was reported as telling RNZ’s Kim Hill "I don't want men in women in spaces (sic), and when women speak up against men in women spaces (sic), these are things that happened to women we get tarred with just horrendous ideology. Women across New Zealand are very, very afraid."
- Ms Evans restricted her formal complaint to the Media Council to Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance. She was concerned that “unbalanced reporting has been justified by reliance on other media outlet coverage to fill in the gaps.” Principle (1) indicated that balance should be found within a media outlet’s coverage. Stuff had defended the use of the anti-trans label on the basis that other publications used it. Newshub had said readers could be expected to be aware of other perspectives beyond those in Newshub articles. TVNZ had commented that the issues had been discussed widely in surrounding media coverage and it was reasonable to expect that viewers would be aware of alternative viewpoints.
- Ms Evans reiterated that her complaint was that they had not given Ms Keen-Minshull a fair voice in their coverage and she was not represented in a balanced way. “I believe the true definition of balance requires an individual media outlet to attempt to give equal weight to each side of any topic, especially one as controversial as this, and I don’t believe any of these three outlets achieved that,” Ms Evans said.
- Newshub chose not to add to their initial response to the complaint. Stuff and TVNZ noted Media Council rulings that were useful precedents for the complaint about describing Ms Keen-Minshull as anti-trans. TVNZ said that its initial response included publications which referenced Ms Keen-Minshull’s views, which were published during the period of current interest. Principle (1) allowed for reportage to be judged on a number of stories.
- In her final comment, Ms Evans said that Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters often said provocative things about Māori but was never described as anti-Māori. The news outlets chose to deliberately misrepresent Ms Keen-Minshull’s motives and ignore important women’s rights issues.
- Ms Evans urged the Media Council to decide what timeframe was sufficient to provide balance. In previous decisions the Council had said it lacked the capacity to analyse data for stories published over several years and in another case said nine days was an inadequate timeframe to judge balance, she said. A balanced report would “consider all sides or opinions equally” she said, quoting the Cambridge dictionary definition. Principle (1) said: “In articles of controversy or disagreement, a fair voice must be given to the opposition view.” Very few of the articles complained about were presented in a balanced way, she said.
- At the outset, the Media Council apologises for the considerable delay in considering this complaint.
- The Council has considered a raft of complaints about coverage of the visit of Ms Keen-Minshull and has already considered many of the issues raised in this complaint, which is a thorough and detailed one.
- Firstly, on the matter of whether it is fair to describe Ms Keen-Minshull as an anti-trans activist, the Council has decided in Ruling 3402 Natasha Hamilton-Hart against the NZ Herald that describing Ms Keen-Minshull as anti-trans does not breach Media Council principles.
- In that decision the Media Council said: “Yet it is also true that Ms Keen-Minshull has repeatedly asserted that she does not recognise trans women as women. While Ms Hamilton-Hart sees this as a statement of biological fact, others see it as a denial of gender and identity. And Ms Keen-Minshull has gone further. She has said, for example, “transgender ideology is an existential threat to women”. She told RNZ’s Morning Report in an interview ahead of her Auckland event that “We are male and female. Non-binary is something I’m pretty sure nobody can actually, properly describe”. So, describing Ms Keen- Minshull as “anti-trans” is literally accurate and not, as the complainant claims, “inconsistent with the substantive meaning of these words.” The ruling also said: “The media is free to choose how it describes people as long as it does not breach Council Principles… Many fair and accurate labels are available to describe Ms Keen- Minshull and ‘anti trans’ is one of them.” In the light of the previous decision, this aspect of the complaint is not upheld.
- The balance issue is more complicated. The Media Council agrees with Ms Evans that publications cannot rely on material published elsewhere to balance their coverage of an issue. Each media outlet’s coverage should stand on its own in terms of balance, although, as Principle (1) allows, balance can be achieved over time when there are a number of stories on a particular subject. The question then is whether the coverage of each of the three news outlets was sufficiently balanced not to breach Principle (1).
- The Council disagrees with Ms Evans that in order to be balanced, stories must give “equal weight” to each side of the topic. In the case of Ms Keen-Minshull’s visit, there seemed to be many more voices against her point of view than in favour of it, especially among government and community leaders who had the most influence over her visit, so it was not surprising that the stories were more heavily weighted in that direction. The Media Council can understand Ms Evans’ concern that the tone of the articles was overwhelmingly against Ms Keen-Minshull, and that it might have been desirable to have more content that set out her views more clearly.
- In her final comment, Ms Evans asked the Council to set out what timeframe it considers acceptable for achieving balance, however it is not possible or desirable to establish prescriptive guidelines of this sort. The period over which balance is judged might depend on the volume of stories about a particular subject or the period over which it is discussed for example, each of which can vary widely. Each case needs to be considered on its merits.
- The Council also notes that many of the stories from all three news outlets were covering the protests and events that were happening on that particular day and did not contain detailed descriptions of the opinions of either side of the debate, as is appropriate in a developing news story.
- The Media Council has already considered whether Stuff’s coverage on the visit of Ms Keen-Minshull was balanced over time in Ruling 3397 Rex Landy against Stuff. The Council said: “However we also consider that sufficient balance was achieved over time given the other articles published over March 2023 which focussed on Ms Keen-Minshull’s visit to NZ and which did include statements or references to statements, for example made via Twitter, made by her.” In the light of that decision, the complaint about the balance of Stuff’s coverage of the visit of Ms Keen-Minshull is not upheld.
- When considering the complaint of lack of balance against TVNZ, the Council notes that in Ruling 3412 Hilary Oxley against TVNZ 1 News, it ruled that a story on TVNZ’s website during the period Ms Evans was considering What are Posie Parker’s views and why are they controversial? did not breach Principle (1) when viewed in conjunction with the video clips it contained. After reading and viewing all the material supplied by TVNZ regarding this complaint, the Media Council is satisfied that there was at least some content that explained Ms Keen-Minshull’s point of view, for example saying that she did not want men in women’s spaces, that “a woman is an adult human female”, that big pharmaceutical companies were making money out of transgenderism, and a comment on Twitter that she “stood up for women and children”.
- This was also true of Newshub’s coverage, where there were video clips embedded in the articles that showed women speaking in favour of Ms Keen-Minshull’s views and saying for example that they had “come to support women and the protection of women’s safe spaces”. Newshub also quoted JK Rowling in support of Ms Keen-Minshull and included quotes from Ms Keen-Minshull’s interview with RNZ’s Kim Hill where she set out her views.
- Decision: The complaint under Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance is not upheld.
Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Hank Schouten, Rosemary Barraclough, Tim Watkin, Scott Inglis, Jonathan Mackenzie, Ben France-Hudson, Jo Cribb, Judi Jones, Alison Thom, Richard Pamatatau.