RACHEL BROWN AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 3031

Council Meeting: APRIL 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Columnists Opinion Discrimination

Overview

1. A complaint that comment in an article carried by Stuff was sexist as the writer had supported a curfew on men to make the streets safer for women. It was not upheld.

Background

2. Stuff published an opinion piece by Virginia Falloon on March 18, 2021 headlined You’ll never walk alone: The danger of being a woman at night.

3. The article was commenting on the recent murder of British woman Sarah Everard who disappeared after leaving a friend’s house at about 9.30pm to walk home. A London police officer was subsequently charged with her kidnapping and murder. The crime sparked an international outcry about the abuse and danger faced by women who dare to walk alone at night.

4. The Stuff columnist noted that a UK Green Party member had even called for a 6pm curfew for men and added that "isn’t the worst idea, except we’re not safe in our homes either, as New Zealand’s shocking rates of domestic violence prove."

 

The Complaint

5. Rachel Brown complained that the opinion expressed was sexist and hypocritical. A man writing a similar piece - suggesting women should not leave their homes past 6pm - would be condemned, made to apologise and forced to resign from his job.

6. She also complained that Stuff had been giving a lot of their opinion pieces to far left feminists and that most of the articles were less about feminism and more on “men bashing”.

The Response

7. On behalf of Stuff Patrick Piercy said the article was clearly identified as comment or opinion as required in Media Council Principle 4.

8. Further, Principle 7 states that publications may report on issues of gender when they are relevant and in the public interest. This article was published soon after the murder of Sarah Everard in south London in early March. As such, it was relevant and, given the context, not gratuitous, said Mr Piercy.

9. Ms Brown employed the argument of equivalence in claiming that, because Stuff would not publish a male writer suggesting a 6pm curfew for women, it was therefore sexist for a female writer to make such a suggestion about men. This was a false argument when discussing matters of gender, just as it is for matters of race. There was no equivalence in the power relationship between men and women, any more than there was between majority races and minority ones. Men have long been free - and even encouraged - to publish sexist comments about women; women have only in recent years been given the chance to start redressing the imbalance. That is not sexism; on the contrary, it is part of the fight against sexism, said Mr Piercy.

10. He added that not all men commit acts of domestic violence, and nowhere does Virginia Fallon suggest they do but men in general could not escape a share of the blame for the fact that too much domestic violence was perpetrated by some men against some women. Recognising that fact was a step towards a desperately needed change and arguing that it was sexist to tar all men with the same brush was seeking to evade this recognition of responsibility.

11. Mr Piercy argued the principle of "punching up", rather than "punching down" was a crucial one in articles such as this one.

12. Stuff was happy, and even proud, to publish strong and sometimes confronting articles from those who have suffered from powerlessness and discrimination. It did not publish articles from those who would seek to continue the discrimination and bullying of those who have less power and influence. “That is not hypocrisy; it is taking a principled stand in favour of the fairer society most of us would like to see.”

13. Mr Piercy said Ms Brown was correct to notice that Stuff had been publishing more opinion articles in a feminist vein, though he would hardly describe Virginia Fallon as "far left". Ms Brown indicated in earlier correspondence that Stuff editor Patrick Crewdson had told her he was "fine" with this trend, and would not apologise for it. Mr Piercy said he did not either.

The Decision

14. As noted above the article was an opinion piece and clearly presented as such. Material facts on which the opinion was based were also accurate and as such the article met the requirements of Media Council Principle 4.

15. Principle 7 - which relates to discrimination and diversity -states that issues of gender, religion, minority groups, sexual orientation, age, race, colour or physical or mental disability are legitimate subjects for discussion where they are relevant and in the public interest and publications may report and express opinions in these areas. It adds that publications should not place gratuitous emphasis on any such category in their reporting.

16. The Media Council considers the argument raised in the article concerning a curfew was clearly rhetorical and not a serious proposal and that the comments on gender were not gratuitous.

17. As for the wider complaint that Stuff had been giving a lot of opinion pieces to far left feminists and that most of the articles were “men bashing,” Stuff acknowledges it had been publishing more opinion in a feminist vein. However, it staunchly defended and justified publication of this column as part of its stance on issues of discrimination, inequality and its belief in a fairer society. This stance is supported by the Media Council’s Statement of Principles which states that publications have a right to adopt a forthright stance or to advocate on any issue.

18. It has also long been held that the selection of columnists and their commentary is an editor’s prerogative. This is spelt out in the Media Council’s remit which states editors have the ultimate responsibility for what appears in their publication and for adherence to standards of ethical journalism.

19. There was no breach of ethical standards or Media Council principles. The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair) Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

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