Formal Complaint by Voices for Freedom: Stuff Circuit ‘Fire and Fury’ Documentary & Articles in the Same Series
On September 9, VFF filed a formal complaint with Stuff regarding their Fire and Fury opinion piece.
The complaint was filed on a Friday and by midday Monday we received the following reply from the Stuff Editor-in-Chief, Janine Fenwick.
Given this response was unsatisfactory and failed to address any of the issues raised in our formal complaint, we further replied with the following email which contains a link to an important and highly relevant article Ms Penfold had previously written where she says:
I tell you this so you understand why, when I saw a post on a friend’s Facebook page explaining that she wouldn’t be getting the Covid vaccine because she hadn’t had the flu in 15 years, and she trusted her immune system, I shouted “IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU (and it’s not a flu!)” and hit unfriend.
Why, when another old schoolmate posted a ranting video of someone touting herself as a freedom fighter, attempting to launch a political party on some vague anti-vax platform, I wrote something sarcastic and shut my laptop.
Why, when someone else I know wrote on her Facebook page that vaccine mandates for health professionals were a breach of human rights, I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of someone unvaccinated being anywhere near my sister in hospital…
Which is why I felt utter contempt towards those people who’d lost their sense of community or any concern for others, who chose to prioritise themselves for the most misguided of reasons…
And so, as a new year begins, I imagine I will continue to direct my anger towards the misguided minority.
We further replied:
Link to Paula Penfold’s January 2022 Opinion Piece Here
Half an hour later Janine replied with a short message:
Our formal complaint to the Media Council is as follows:
23 September 2022
On Sunday 14 August 2022, Stuff Circuit published a 1 hour and 3 minute ‘documentary’ called ‘Fire and Fury’ (The Programme). Voices For Freedom (VFF) was one of several subjects of focus in The Programme.
On Friday 9 September 2022, VFF emailed its complaint regarding The Programme to Stuff’s Acting Stuff editor-in-chief, Janine Fenwick (VFF’s Complaint).
Ms Fenwick replied the following business day. Her response is set out in Annexure “A”. VFF was concerned that the response was dismissive and failed to engage, in any substantive way with the Complaint. As such, further exchanges ensued later on Monday 19 September 2022, those exchanges are also set out in Annexure “A”.
For the purposes of the time periods, VFF has complied with the required timeframes, namely it:
- Made the VFF Complaint to Stuff within 20 business days of The Programme being uploaded.
- Provided the VFF Complaint to the Media Council within 20 business days of Stuff’s initial unsatisfactory response.
ABOUT VOICES FOR FREEDOM
VFF is a grassroots, not-for-profit, community advocacy organisation. It is focused on raising awareness of the human issues associated with the Government’s response to Covid-19 and other matters impacting the rights and freedoms of New Zealanders.
VFF was founded by three Kiwi mothers; passionate women with professional backgrounds in law and education as well as running online communities in the health, wellbeing, and arts arenas.
Our audience exceeds 100,000 supporters spread throughout the country with over 40,000 members active and engaged in local community groups. Our supporters are diverse in nature and span all ages, ethnicities, socio-economic groups, religious and political beliefs, and abilities.
We advocate for the open discussion and debate of important issues, information, research, and data affecting New Zealanders, particularly as a result of the Government’s response to COVID-19 including their public messaging, unethical and coercive policies, and rushed legislation.
When tens of thousands of upstanding Kiwis were forced out of their jobs, homes, and lives as a result of Government policy, VFF was there to assist them with resources, advice, and supportive community networks. We cared at a time when the Government and media turned their backs, instead using their power to encourage and create a two-tier society in New Zealand.
Our website provides details and examples of the resources and information we provide. To see some of our key podcasts we refer you to our interviews with Dr Ryan Cole and with Professor Mattias Desmet.
VFF’s Complaint outlined how The Programme significantly breached Stuff’s own Editorial Code of Practice and Ethics (Stuff ECPE). It also included a number of the many Media Council Principles and Broadcasting Standards Principles it breached, namely:
The Programme appeared on Stuff’s Circuit online platform. Stuff is a member of the Media Council’s Video On Demand Classification and as such has agreed to abide by the principles outlined by the Media Council. In addition to points made in the VFF Complaint, VFF also commented upon the additional Principles breached but not expressly detailed in the VFF Complaint:
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
In addition to the complaints articulated under the Accuracy, Fairness and Balance heading of The Complaint, there are three further Media Council Principals that The Programme breached, namely:
Principle 6 – Headlines and Captions
Headlines, sub-headings, and captions should accurately and fairly convey the substance or a key element of the report they are designed to cover.
Principle 4 – Comment and Fact
A clear distinction should be drawn between factual information and comment or opinion. An article that is essentially comment or opinion should be clearly presented as such. Material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate.
Principle 11 – Photographs and Graphics
Editors should take care in photographic and image selection and treatment. Any technical manipulation that could mislead readers should be noted and explained. Photographs showing distressing or shocking situations should be handled with special consideration for those affected.
The Programme is entitled “A Stuff Circuit Investigation: Fire & Fury”:
The word investigation is important. It is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as:
“the act or process of examining a crime, problem, statement, etc. carefully, especially to discover the truth.”
The Programme is most certainly not an investigation by this definition.
Rather, it is a collection of snippets taken from webinars and live streams spliced together with images and video taken from the Freedom Protest at Wellington and with interviews with so-called “experts”, all played against eerie thriller-type music. The images and video are taken out of context, enlarged and portrayed on building-sized billboards, or on the TV in someone’s lounge. The images and video used are often dramatically zoomed in on, to give the appearance that those featured are dictators or fascist-like in their messaging (in breach of Principles 6 and 11).
Investigative Journalism has also been defined by Unesco as:
“the unveiling of matters that are concealed either deliberately by someone in a position of power, or accidentally, behind a chaotic mass of facts and circumstances – and the analysis and exposure of all relevant facts to the public.”
The Programme is more appropriately described as opinion-based ‘hit piece’ – propaganda masquerading as “investigative journalism”.
It lacks any credible factual information and seeks to have commentators give credibility to what is being portrayed “as fact” (in breach of Principle 4).
Describing the Programme as “investigative”, gives the false impression that it is factual. However, the Programme is, to its core, an opinion piece. It fails to state that anywhere.
Principle 10: Conflicts Of Interest
Further to the statements set out under the Bias heading of The Complaint. VFF also raises breaches of Principle 10 of the Media Council Principles:
To fulfil their proper watchdog role, publications must be independent and free of obligations to their news sources. They should avoid any situations that might compromise such independence. Where a story is enabled by sponsorship, gift or financial inducement, that sponsorship, gift or financial inducement should be declared. Where an author’s link to a subject is deemed to be justified, the relationship of author to subject should be declared.
It is well known that Stuff and many other mainstream media organisations have received significant funding from the $55 million Public Interest Journalist Fund (PIJF).
Whether it is intended or not, the effect of a government sponsored slush fund to support media has created lapdogs rather than watchdogs. The situation has compromised Stuff’s independence as is on display in The Programme.
Stuff Circuit should be require to declare any amounts it has received from the PIJF and NZ On Air for The Programme.
VFF considers the following resolutions as appropriate:
VFF’s Complaint be Upheld on all or some of the Grounds identified in both The Complaint and this further summary.
That The Programme be removed from all sites where it is published and a formal apology be issued by Stuff Circuit to VFF.
Any other orders the Media Council deem fit.