STU DICKSON AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 3287

Council Meeting: JULY 2022

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

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

Ruling Categories: Bias
Columnists Opinion
Misleading

Overview

On 2 June 2022, Stuff published an opinion piece by Morgan Godfery headed High infection rates mean mask mandates must come back to schools. Stu Dickson complained that the article was misleading when it said: “Research from the US found that ‘COVID-19 incidence was 37% lower in schools that required teachers and staff members to use masks and 39% lower in schools that improved ventilation.’” Dickson said there were notes attached to the study that indicated it had serious limitations and the article painted a misleading picture of the effectiveness of masks. Godfery was also a lecturer in entrepreneurship, so “why Stuff holds him up as an expert on masks is unclear”.

Stuff replied that Godfery had been vocal about the pandemic, and particularly as it pertained to classrooms and lecture theatres, and this article was his honestly held opinion. Godfery was an opinion writer on a range of issues. The use of the description “senior lecturer” was used on all his columns and there was no attempt to disguise a lack of expertise by not saying what he lectures in, Stuff said.  It was unreasonable in a 700-800 word article to include links to extensive notes on a piece of research that may or may not be relevant. The summary of the study was sufficient evidence to draw an inference that mask wearing and better ventilation would reduce case numbers.

The Media Council notes that this is plainly an opinion piece, and many Covid opinion pieces were written by commentators without specific scientific expertise. The information in the story about the research was a fair summary of its findings and was appropriate to include to back up the writer’s argument. No errors of fact have been proved. No principles have been breached.

There are insufficient grounds to proceed.

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