STU DICKSON AGAINST STUFF 6

Case Number: 3142

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2021

Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed

Ruling Categories: Behaviour of Journalists
Comment and Fact
Discrimination
Politicians
Unfair Coverage

Overview

CASE NO: 3142

RULING BY THE NEW ZEALAND MEDIA COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINT OF STU DICKSON AGAINST STUFF

FINDING: INSUFFICIENT GROUNDS TO PROCEED

DATE: NOVEMBER 2021

 

Stuff published an article on October 20, 2021 headlined Tell the mayor to get vaccinated. Sandra Goudie won’t take the Pfizer vaccine and won’t say why. This was a story about Thames-Coromandel Mayor Sandra Goudie’s decision not to have the Government-approved Covid-19 vaccination, and a journalist’s frustration at not being able to get her to explain her stance. The story, which was devoted mainly to teasing out the mayor’s views, included brief critical comment from two local residents, a fellow councillor and a microbiologist who said Goudie’s refusal to get vaccinated was irresponsible.

Stu Dickson complained that article engaged in discrimination against the unvaccinated, blurred comment and fact, made unfair characterisations and insults at Sandra Goudie and veered into bullying. Ms Goudie did not owe Stuff an explanation.

He said the tone of the article was one of ridicule and smear tactics. Stuff was also negligent and misleading by leaving out information such as a recent overseas study which he said found that vaccination rates did not correlate with lower case rates.

Stuff responded saying that the article was an appropriate interrogation of an elected official who had expressed a personal view on a matter of great public interest. The vaccination rate was directly related to how many people become seriously ill or die as a result of Covid-19.

“This is why we ask people like Sandra Goudie, who hold positions of influence and responsibility in our country, why they choose not to contribute to lifting the vaccination rate.”

The Media Council notes that there has been extensive coverage on the efficacy and safety of Covid-19 vaccinations so many of the arguments about the vaccines have been well covered. It also notes that the Council has previously dealt with another complaint, against the New Zealand Herald, on its handling of the mayor’s vaccine stance and the reaction of a fellow councillor.

That complaint was mainly about the Herald’s decision to cut-off on-line comment about the story.   The same issue does not arise in the Stuff story. This story was about an attempt to draw out the mayor’s views and to get an explanation for her stance which ran counter to the urgings of the Government, the Ministry of Health, medical authorities, politicians and community leaders throughout the country.

We do not accept Mr Dickson’s view that the mayor “doesn’t owe you an explanation”. Elected officials, like Mayor Goudie, understand they are accountable to their constituents.  In standing for office they can be assumed to accept this.  What they say and do can have significant effects in a community and it is a legitimate role for journalists to ask questions and seek explanations from them.

Attempting to draw her out with straight forward questions does not constitute bullying.  She was entitled to refuse to give reasons, and the journalist was equally entitled to report he was not getting answers.

There were insufficient grounds to proceed.

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