STU DICKSON AGAINST STUFF 9

Case Number: 3195

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2022

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy

Overview

CASE NO:3195

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

FINDING: INSUFFICIENT GROUNDS TO PROCEED

DATE: FEBRUAY 2022

Stuff published an article on January 21, 2022, headlined Explainer: All your mask-wearing questions answered.

The article discussed the sorts of masks people were wearing and reported University of Auckland aerosol chemist, Dr Joel Rindelaub, saying there was no question that masks were an effective way to minimise transmission of Covid-19, even with the more transmissible Omicron variant.

He was reported as saying disposable medical masks were better than cloth masks and that N95, P2 and other respirator masks were the safest options. It reported advice by Northland physician Dr Nitasha Rimar and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention on the need for masks to fit tightly on the face. It also included advice on mask rotation, storage and cleaning.

Stu Dickson said Stuff continued to fail in its duty to hold experts to account and question their advice. It continued to push unsubstantiated falsehoods about masks and relied on appeals to authority rather than produce any evidence. He said there was much science and real-world evidence to show masks did not make a difference to case or death rates. Stuff’s refusal to acknowledge this rendered the article misleading and inaccurate.

Mr Dickson said a WHO commissioned meta-study, published in June 2020, which claimed a risk reduction of 80 percent with facemasks, was seriously flawed and should be retracted. He then laid out a critique of the meta-study and cited studies which, he said, showed the benefits of masks were exaggerated and that mask wearing could be harmful.

In a brief response Stuff editor Kamala Hayman said the Omicron variant was very new and the understanding of how masks could protect against it was evolving by the day. She added that the Government was expected to announce its guidance on mask use the following day. This would be reported, and Stuff would be seeking independent comment and advice from New Zealand experts.

Mr Dickson said Stuff’s response was dismissive and did not address the evidence and points raised in his complaint.

The Media Council notes this is Mr Dickson’s ninth unsuccessful complaint against Stuff in the past 10 months, the seventh on Covid-related stories and the third about mask wearing.

All complaints are assessed against the Media Council’s principles which relate to issues of journalistic ethics, freedom of expression and the public interest, accuracy, fairness and balance. It is worth noting here it is not the Council’s role to investigate and determine issues of scientific debate – in this case, it would also be well beyond the Council’s expertise to assess all the research on masks and coronavirus.

A key point here is that medical authorities with access to international scientific data have decided masks provide protection and are necessary in many situations. As a result, mask wearing in many situations is now a daily fact of life for most New Zealanders.

This article was designed to give readers the best advice available on masks and mask wearing and not to relitigate the scientific arguments for and against masks. It was unrealistic to expect it to cover the counter-arguments Mr Dickson advanced. It was a straightforward report that relied heavily on quotations from accepted and respectable authorities. There is no suggestion the quotes were inaccurate.

There were insufficient grounds to proceed.

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