SARAH FRAYNE AGAINST NEWSTALKZB

Case Number: 3163

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2021

Decision: Upheld

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Columnists Opinion
Discrimination
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. A complaint that an article on Covid-19 Lockdown rule breakers breached Media Council principles relating to Accuracy, fairness and balance; Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters; and Discrimination and Diversity.

2. The complaint was not upheld on Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and Principle 5 Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters.

3. The complaint was upheld on Principle 7 Discrimination and Diversity

 

Background

4. On September 30, 2021 Sarah Frayne complained about the online text transcript of a radio broadcast by Kerre McIvor published on 29 September on NewstalkZB about the lockdown breaches and how it is wearing thin for the writer.

5. Ms Frayne acknowledged that the column was an opinion piece.

 
6. The column was about Covid19 lockdown rule breakers in Auckland. 

The Complaint

7. Ms Frayne believed that the column was inaccurate, unfair and lacking in balance, divisive and racist.

8, Included in the column was the statement “This is doing my [the writer’s] head in. If you are Māori, if you’re a gang member, if you’re an entitled narcissist twit like the Wanaka runaways, like Brian Tamaki, you stick two fingers to everyone and go your own way” and it is this sentence that is the subject of the complaint.

 9. The complainant could see that the point of the column was to illustrate high profile individuals caught breaching the rules but felt that to “lump an entire ethnicity and culture together as rule breakers by saying “if you’re Māori” is wrong” and “just plain racist”.

10. She felt that the comment was also potentially damaging at a time when Covid19 requires the community to pull together, get vaccinated and do the right thing as a community. 

The Response

11. Initially, in an email to Ms Frayne on 31 October 2021, NZME replied that the quote provided by Ms Frayne did not match what was said on the radio, and considered the complaint by reference to the broadcast.

12. They stated that “But if you are Māori and you have some great contacts in the police…” was the correct quote rather than the just the use of “If you are Māori”.

 13. Following Ms Frayne providing them with a screenshot of the original publication that she had seen, NZME stated that the article which appeared on the ZB website and was subsequently shared on the ZB Facebook pages was not checked against the segment broadcast prior to publication.

 14. They went on to say that the article had now been updated.

 15. In a letter to the Media Council dated 25 November 2021, NZME reiterated what they had told Ms Frayne and noted that the particular comment complained about did not reflect the content of the broadcast and unfortunately the discrepancy between the broadcast and the article was only discovered when reviewing Ms Frayne’s complaint.

 16. They noted that the online team have been reminded of the importance of moderating comments and of turning off comments where appropriate.

 
17. In regard to Principle 1, this applies mainly to news reporting and the article was a transcript of an opinion segment broadcast on the Kerre McIvor Mornings programme.

18. The piece was clearly labelled with “Opinion” and as such also satisfies Principle 4 which requires that “An article that is essentially comment or opinion should be clearly presented as such”.

 19. NZME noted that as an opinion piece, while the opinion still requires some foundation in fact, the requirement for balance to ensure fairness is not essential.

20, They cited a previous Media Council decision which stated “it is only in the rarest of cases that an opinion piece will breach the Council’s principles”.

 21. They noted that a more recent decision stated that “vigorous and confrontational language…is not untypical of this sort of opinion piece”.

 22. In terms of Principle 6 [in fact Principle 7 – Discrimination and Diversity] NZME considered that the piece as originally published, while robust, did not contain the requisite level of malice or invective to constitute a breach of this principle.

23. While the Māori community are a recognised section of the community for the purposes of this standard, they did not consider that the host’s comment referred to encourages discrimination against nor denigration of Māori.

 24. The focus of the author’s criticism was directed at the police officer involved rather than those travelling with him.

 25. NZME believes that in the updated version it is clear that the author’s comment is directed at specific individuals referred to at the beginning of the article.

 26. NZME acknowledged Ms Frayne’s concerns regarding the specific paragraph as originally published but believed that the subsequent actions taken in this instance were sufficient and for the reasons noted above did not consider this article breached Media Council principles.



The Discussion

27. In regards to Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance the Council found there was no breach. This was an opinion piece and not a news piece and did not contain information that was factually incorrect.

28. In regard to Principle 5 Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters, it was clearly labelled an opinion piece and consisted completely of the writer’s own opinions.

 29. It was when assessing Principle 7 Discrimination and Diversity that the Council had some misgiving. Mainly regarding whether there was gratuitous emphasis on the use of the term “Māori”.

30. No ethnicity was mentioned in respect of any other people cited in the original published article and it could easily be said that the inference was that Māori as a group were, along with the other cited examples, breaching Covid19 regulations.

31. The updated article still used the term Māori but qualified it with “and you have some great contacts in the police….” which still singled out Māori more than police despite the NZME assertion.

32. The term Unconscious Bias, also known as implicit bias, where the underlying attitudes and stereotypes that people unconsciously attribute to another person or group of people that affect how they understand and engage with a person or group, could easily be said to be contained in the article.

33. As noted earlier in the discussion, no other ethnicity was cited and this could enhance any Unconscious Bias in others reading the article.

 34. Principle 7 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. Publications should not, however, place gratuitous emphasis on any such category in their reporting.

35. The comment regarding Māori in both the original piece and the updated one could be said to be denigrating Māori and inferring that only Māori behaved in such a way. The Council understands the people McIvor was referring to were Māori. However, the focus of the column and the author’s criticism, is their breaking of the Covid rules and has nothing to do with their ethnicity. Therefore describing the people's ethnicity is gratuitous.

36. Writers of opinion pieces have the right to express their opinions and do so. But they also have responsibility to ensure that they do not single out any group in a way that is denigratory.

37. The Council notes that ZB’s handling of the complaint was poor. When the screenshot was sent on November 3, ZB realised the accidental slur against all Māori was unacceptable and immediately added the actual words as used on-air.

 38. ZB’s explanation was that it had handled the complaint as referring to McIvor’s on-air comments. But the complainant clearly says in her initial complaint to ZB “this is a written article” and three times says she saw it on Facebook.

 39. The fact ZB ignored that detail of the complaint and did not check the column meant that for over a month a racist comment purporting to be the opinion of one of its hosts was left online. This should be of serious concern to the organisation.

 40. When ZB did address the Media Council complaint it still referred to issues that are covered by the BSA’s principles, but not ours. We hope ZB takes the opportunity to learn the Media Council principles and in future to apply the Principles that it operates under. 

41. The complaint is not upheld on Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and Principle 5 Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters.

42. The complaint is upheld on Principle 7 Discrimination and Diversity.


Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Sandy Gill, Jonathan MacKenzie, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff and Tim Watkin.

Craig Cooper took no part in the consideration of this complaint.

 


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