SEAN KEARNEY AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 3095

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2021

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Unfair Coverage

Overview

Stuff published a column on August 26, 2021 under the headline New Zealand’s lockdown list of shame. It was an opinion piece in which the author criticized people for not following the rules relating to mask wearing during the lockdown.

The second and third paragraphs read:

Among the many benefits of our new mandatory mask wearing is that stupid people are far more easily identifiable. It’s brilliant. Where once you had to endure at least a few minutes of interaction before being able to make a call about someone’s intelligence, masks make it almost instant.

You’ve seen them: the lady with her nose hanging over the top of her mask, the man with his nestled snugly under his chin but below his month, and – quite seriously – the woman I saw pull her mask away from her maw so she could enjoy an unhindered dry cough in the dairy.

Mr Kearney, who is asthmatic, complained that Stuff seemed to be unaware that some people like him were exempted from wearing face masks for physical or mental health conditions or disabilities that make face coverings unsuitable. He complained that the article breached Media Council Principle 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance) and asked Stuff to delete the word “stupid” or acknowledge people who had legitimate reasons for not wearing masks.

David Gadd of Stuff, in response to a different complaint about the same column, noted the column referenced three instances of people who had masks on but were not wearing them correctly. Virginia Fallon was not targeting anyone who genuinely could not comply with lockdown restrictions or who had an exemption. The columnist provided specific instances, none of which she believed to be defensible, which put others at risk. As an opinion writer she was entitled to robustly put her view.

The Media Council notes that Stuff amended the article within hours of publication to make it clear that some people were exempt from wearing masks and that the columnist was only talking about those who were not wearing them properly. A footnote was also added to say the column was amended to recognize there were some people with legitimate exemptions from wearing masks.

Stuff’s swift action to amend this story is commended.

With that there are insufficient grounds to proceed.

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