RACHEL BROWN AGAINST STUFF
Case Number: 3366
Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2022
Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
On 22 September 2022, Stuff published an article headlined By the numbers: What does it cost us to be part of the Commonwealth? The story said it was “a break-down of what we pay as a member of the Commonwealth”. It covered the cost of the Governor General, Government House and various Commonwealth organisations. The story said: “The New Zealand Republic claims the total sum of $9.37m compares to the upkeep of the ceremonial President of Ireland of about $7.9m.” An additional cost was royal tours, the story said.
Rachel Brown complained under Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and Principle (4) Comment and Fact, saying the story was unbalanced. Stuff should have included figures about the costs of moving to a republic. The story should also have stated that many of the costs would continue even if New Zealand became a republic. The cost of the Irish president came from the New Zealand Republic and was unverified. As there was input from the New Zealand Republic, there should have been balancing input from someone who favoured staying in the Commonwealth. Even if New Zealand was a republic, it would still bear the costs of visits should the royal family choose to come here, Ms Brown said.
Stuff replied, saying this article was not intended to be a comparison of the financial costs of the Commonwealth versus becoming a republic. It clearly stated that it was simply a review of the costs of membership of the Commonwealth. It did not say that New Zealand should not be part of the Commonwealth, or was not getting value for the money spent, or that a republic would be better, Stuff said. The figure sourced from the republican organisation was verified against independent media reporting in Ireland.
In a further response Ms Brown said including information sources from the New Zealand Republic on the cost of the Irish president made the article appear biased towards a republic. She also said she had seen articles on Stuff about becoming a republic but nothing on the benefit of staying in the Commonwealth.
The Media Council has considered this complaint under Principle (1) as it is a news story not an opinion piece so Principle (4) does not apply. On Ms Brown’s point that she has only seen stories on Stuff about the benefits of moving to a republic, and not on the benefits of staying in the Commonwealth, the Council notes that it does not have enough information about stories published by Stuff on the subject to make a ruling on that matter.
On the specific story complained about, the Council accepts Stuff’s view that this was a simple news story setting out the costs of being in the Commonwealth. The Council takes Ms Brown’s point that a thorough examination of the costs of both systems would be interesting, and would be necessary as part of the debate if there were serious moves to transition to being a republic. However, in this case the story was not examining the pros and cons of moving to a republic, it was simply a factual piece about a matter of interest around the time of the death of the Queen. There were no arguments included about why New Zealand should become a republic and the figure about the Irish presidency was stated without comment, so no balancing point of view was required. No principles have been breached.
Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.