VAUGHAN NICHOLLS AGAINST THE DOMINION POST AND STUFF
Case Number: 3156
Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2021
Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed
Ruling Categories: Accuracy
CASE NO: 3156
RULING BY THE NEW ZEALAND MEDIA COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINT OF VAUGHAN NICHOLLS AGAINST THE DOMINION POST AND STUFF
FINDING: INSUFFICIENT GROUNDS TO PROCEED
DATE: DECEMBER 2021
The Dominion Post/Stuff published an article on November 20, 2021, headlined Covid-19: Confusion over claims that protesters delayed ambulance from reaching serious injured football player.
The article included a photo, of football players milling around the back of a van, captioned “A Miramar Rangers football player is loaded onto a courier van after the ambulance is unable to reach the field.”
Initially the story started by reporting Wellington Free Ambulance and Capital and Coast District Health Board disputed claims that anti-vaccination protesters prevented an ambulance from reaching a seriously injured footballer. The first paragraph was later amended with the removal of the words “anti-vaccination”. The story went on to report a ground announcer saying that ambulances were unable to leave the hospital because they were blocked by Covid-19 protesters. The police, the hospital, and the ambulance were unable to confirm this although the ambulance service said the next day that the ambulance had not reached the sports ground.
Vaughan Nicholls said the article was not factual and reported rumour rather than fact. He also challenged the editor’s defence and said that it was not the function of the news media to dampen down every social media rumour. He said the main premise of the article was that protesters prevented an ambulance from leaving Wellington Hospital. This was unsupported so the source of the rumour was in question.
Stuff Sundays’ editor Tracy Watkins said the article was published to shed light on the facts of the case because there was significant commentary on social media, including some fairly ugly threats, blaming “anti-vaxxers” for holding up the ambulance. The story raised significant doubts about the veracity of information that was in the public domain - on social media, Sky Sport and over the loudspeaker.
The Media Council concludes that while it was not clear whether a protest prevented an ambulance from getting to the football field, or that it was held up for some other reason, the photo proves another vehicle was called into service. Conflicting statements as to why the ambulance did not attend were confusing and it was not inaccurate to report that. This was fair reporting of a confused set of facts that were of public interest.
There were insufficient grounds to proceed.