STU DICKSON AGAINST STUFF
Case Number: 3238
Council Meeting: March 2022
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Stuff published a story on March 15, 2022, headlined Covid-19 NZ: The strange story of a man who has found fame in the anti-vaccination ecosystem.
This was a lengthy article on Guy Hatchard, a man without medical or other relevant scientific qualifications, whose blog posts on vaccinations have been widely distributed across Facebook by more than 50 other accounts operated by groups such as NZ Truckers Convoy 2022 and the Freedom and Rights Coalition.
The article is an exploration of Mr Hatchard’s credentials, examines his background and how he has managed to position himself as a credible spokesperson for the anti-vaccination movements despite being seemingly unqualified to speak with any authority. It also reported his changing views and response to questions posed by the journalist.
Stu Dickson complained the article was a “hit piece” which claimed Mr Hatchard had made demonstrably false claims about the vaccine without saying what the claims are or examining those claims.
“Stuff wants to convince its declining readership that Mr Hatchard is publishing false claims, but instead of examining his claims, they talk about his background.”
Stuff responded to the complaint saying it did not accept the assertion this was a “hit piece.”
“Guy Hatchard has positioned himself as an expert on vaccines and Covid. Given his reach and the risk to the public of misinformation during a global pandemic, it is entirely appropriate that what he says is journalistically scrutinised.
“Those who see his posts on social media are entitled to know his background and the veracity of his statements.”
It was the article’s purpose to report on Mr Hatchard’s background and the claims he made had been reported extensively elsewhere in Stuff’s ongoing Covid reporting.
The Media Council notes reference to “demonstrably flawed claims” is supported only by one reference in this article – a question posed by Mr Hatchard suggesting that Shane Warne’s fatal heart attack may have been caused by a Covid-19 vaccination. It would have been helpful to readers if at least one other flawed claim had been spelt out. However, the point of the article was not to list errors by Mr Hatchard. It was not to critique anti-vaccination arguments. It was to analyse the reach of a person, (Mr Hatchard), who has established an on-line presence in New Zealand as a commentator on matters of expertise that may be disseminated by readers, when he has no expertise. There is no suggestion that such persons be muzzled. But the article provides information that would better enable a reader to evaluate Mr Hatchard’s statements.
Rather than being a “hit piece” the Council considers this article to be a detailed piece of investigative journalism which sets out Mr Hatchard’s academic and publication record and his use of an online presence as an example of the way comment from non-experts spreads across the internet.
No evidence has been advanced to show it was wrong. Mr Hatchard was given a right of reply and this was reported. He was treated fairly and no breach of the Media Council’s principles has occurred.
There were insufficient grounds to proceed.