THOMPSON AND CLARK AGAINST RNZ

Case Number: 3065

Council Meeting: JUNE 2021

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Radio NZ

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Headlines and Captions
Sensationalism

Overview

RNZ published a story School children targeted by private investigators Thompson and Clark on 22 April 2021.Written by investigative reporter Nicky Hager, the report outlines how Thompson and Clark have undertaken monitoring of climate change groups, including the group School Strike 4 Climate, for an oil and gas company.

The Complaint

Gavin Clark on behalf of Thompson and Clark complains that RNZ fails to differentiate between target, surveillance, and monitor. They argue thattargeting (a person, object or place selected as the aim of attack) is clearly not the same asmonitoring of social media and other public sources of information.

As such the monitoring they undertook of school children (using social media) was because they were present at protests, not because they were targeted asRNZ has stated. Mr Clark contends that RNZ has therefore breached Media Council’s Principle 1: Accuracy.

Further, in RNZ’s approach to Thompson and Clark for comment, no reference was made to ‘’targeting school children” as the proposed angle of the report. They were asked instead for comment about ‘’oil and gas companies using Thompson and Clark to monitor climate change groups”.

Mr Clark also states that the headline chosen is ‘’overly sensationalized” and had nothing to do with the facts or content of the article. He also notes that the article was illustrated by a generic image of a man in a car holding a camera conducting surveillance. This image, along with the headline, Mr Clark contends conveyed a misleading and untruthful impression that Thompson and Clark were filming and surveilling school children. As such, he concludes thatRNZ has breached the Media Council Principle 6: Headlines and Captions.

The Response

RNZ responds to the complaint of a breach of Principle 6: Headlines and Captions. They state that it is a fact that school children form the membership of the group “School Strike 4 Climate” and this group and other climate change groups were the target of work by Thompson and Clark. Given headlines need to be succinct, RNZ is satisfied that the headline is a reasonable one.

RNZ also disagrees that the use of the image of a man in a parked car conveyed an untruthful impression that Thompson and Clark were filming schoolchildren. They argue that the word ‘’surveillance’’ is not used in the context of school children and the photo was a small one used at the end of the article.

Regarding Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, RNZ states that the basis of the accusation of inaccuracy is that Thompson and Clark deny that they have conducted surveillance on school children.RNZ argues that the story does not state that, rather it discusses the monitoring of the groups identified.

They conclude that Thompson and Clark were given ample opportunity to respond on any matters they sought to and thought relevant.

The Decision

The complaint against Principle 1: Accuracy seems to hang off different definitions of surveillance and targeting and monitoring. Thompson and Clark say they were not filming and not surveilling people engaged in protests but have not denied monitoring the action of climate change groups (including those of school children) through social media. The Media Council concludes that, when considering the common usage of these terms by the public, their actions can reasonably be considered tantamount to surveillance regardless of Thompson and Clark’s technical definitions of it. Further, regarding the use of the term target, clearly school children were some of the focus or targets of their work.

Also, as RNZ points out, the term used throughout most of the article to describe Thompson and Clark’s work is monitoring.

Further, regarding the use of the image, while the Media Council thinks it is a somewhat unnecessary addition, it comes towards the end of the article by which time the reader will be aware of the substance of the story. The caption is also clear that this is a file image.

The Media Council can see no evidence of inaccuracy in the reporting – Thompson and Clark do not deny monitoring school children who are members of School Strike 4 Climate.

The Media Council also cannot identify any breach of Principle 6: Headlines and Captions. The bulk and substance of the article is about school children being included in monitoring by Thompson and Clark.

The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Jonathan MacKenzie, Hank Schouten and Marie Shroff.

Tim Watkin took no part in the consideration of tis complaint.