NIGEL YATES AGAINST THE OTAGO DAILY TIMES

Case Number: 3289

Council Meeting: JULY 2022

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters

Ruling Categories: Behaviour of Journalists
Damaging To Reputation
Defamation/Damaging To Reputation
Offensive Language

Overview

Nigel Yates complained to the Otago Daily Times about the level of “invective and mockery” directed towards people who protested about Government mandates and “medical misinformation”. He complained about letters to the editor on 16 February 2022 that used the word “freedumb”, talked about abuse of children by “raving narcissists” and “confused, delusional” conspiracy theorists. The ODT was allowing hate speech to be published with little or no right of reply allowed, he said.

He also complained about an editorial on the same day with the headline Respect our House, which dealt with the protests outside Parliament, quoting the saying that “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” The editorial said this applied to the protestors who had “begun to smell, not just metaphorically, turning the ground of Parliament into a fetid, sludgy mudbath”.

Mr Yates complained under a number of principles, including Principle 1: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, and Principle 5: Columns, Blogs, Opinions and Letters.

The Media Council notes that both the letters and the editorial in question are clearly opinion, and writers are entitled to express their views in strong and colourful language, as was the case here. As set out in Principle 5, balance is not required for opinion pieces, although the Council notes that the editorial in question did say some protestors had valid concerns and not all were extremists

Letter selection is the editor’s prerogative and Principle Six states this should be guided by “fairness, balance, and public interest”. As the Council is only considering letters published on one day, it is impossible to say whether both sides have been given the chance to have a say over time, but there is no evidence they have not. Regarding both the letters and the editorial, no principles have been breached.

 
Decision:
There are insufficient grounds to proceed.

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