STU DICKSON AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 3305

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2022

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Privacy
Discrimination and Diversity

Ruling Categories: Behaviour of Journalists
Right of Reply

Overview

Stuff published an article on August 17, 2022, headlined Council candidate hides behind closed door when asked about conspiracy group Voices for Freedom. The story reported an attempt to get comment from a Christchurch City Council candidate who had expressed anti-vaccination views and who had posted on social media a fictitious figure on the number of Kiwis who had died due to the vaccine.

The article noted the candidate hung up when called on the phone and then spoke briefly through the front door of her home when the reporter came knocking. She refused to speak to the reporter except to say she was not a member of the anti-vaccination, anti-mandate Voices for Freedom Group.

Stu Dickson said the “disgraceful” reporter’s actions were harassment and inappropriate. The candidate did not want to talk, as evidenced by her hanging up the phone, yet the reporter infringed on her right not to talk by hounding her at her home.

He said that a few seconds into the video the candidate told the reporter to get off the property, yet she remained and continued to ask questions. It was clear from the rest of the video she did not want to talk but the reporter kept asking questions.

Stuff responded saying that Mr Dickson appeared to have confused ordinary citizens from candidates running for political office. “The latter have an obligation to be upfront about their political views and affiliations. Unfortunately, it appears there are candidates who are not being entirely open about their views on issues of importance to voters and it is our role, in the media, to shine a light on these issues.”

“It is also a fundamental principle of journalism that we give individuals, in this case candidates running for political office, the opportunity to answer questions before we publish stories about them. If we cannot reach someone by phone, it is usual practice to visit them in person, to ensure they have the fullest opportunity to respond to questions before we publish. This is responsible journalism.”

Stuff also reported the candidate said she would talk to the reporter a few days later but failed to do so.

The Media Council notes that the political affiliations and beliefs of local government candidates are an important matter of public interest. People standing for office can expect to be challenged or questioned and the news media can have a valuable role in doing this in the interests of informing voters ahead of elections.

If a person does not want to talk on the phone it is not inappropriate to call at their home on an important matter of public interest such as this. It is also both fair and important to give people every opportunity to respond to allegations before publication.

The Council notes the video that was run with this story records the candidate asking the reporter to leave the property. This was followed by a brief and calm exchange through the unopened front door. This conversation was quite respectful and there was no rancour. The Council has no evidence to support a complaint of harassment. There is also no indication that the candidate has complained.

 

Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed

 

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