Media Council upholds religious bias complaints

religious bias

The NZ Media Council has upheld religious bias complaints against a Stuff online story.

The November 2022 article slamming Tauranga’s Bethlehem College and its views on gender issues was unfair, the Council says.

Stuff culled the story from an article school counsellor Marli de Klerk had uploaded to the College’s Facebook page.

Using the (since removed) post as a springboard, Stuff published an article headlined “School counsellor accused of ‘bullying’ and transphobia.”

It claimed de Klerk had ‘been labelled “transphobic” for her “harmful” and “bigoted” views on the Ministry of Education curriculum.

She claimed the curriculum was “deliberately teaching lies to little ones” about gender, the Stuff news media website reported.

It went on to quote de Klerk’s post.

“A significant amount of New Zealand parents are expressing concern and are opposed to the new curriculum from the Ministry of Education … teaching children you may be born in the same body and you can simply change your biological sex,” she had written.

The journalist then incorporated commentary from people opposing de Klerk’s views into the story.

The commentators included a “health practitioner” and a psychotherapist.

The article also claimed a Tauranga arson attack was the result of anti-queer sentiment.

The complaints

The Media Council received four separate complaints saying the article variously breached its Principles (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, (2) Privacy, (4) Comment and Fact, (6) Headlines and Captions, and (12) Corrections.

Using the word ‘bullying’ in the headline made the article unbalanced and unfair, all four complainants said.

Although Stuff removed the word from the headline three hours after publication, its apology for using it was buried at the end of the slightly reworked article.

The complainants contended that removing the word “bullying” was thus not effective or timely. It did not give equal prominence to the original defamatory statement.

Furthermore, the original heading continued to show on Stuff’s app for some hours longer and continues to be available in Google search results.

All four complainants objected to Stuff quoting a Tauranga health practitioner’s opposing views in their article.

This person is an osteopath; calling her a ‘health practitioner’ suggested she had expertise in gender issues, the complainants said. Quoting her views, therefore, made the article unbalanced.

Nor is the osteopath from Tauranga: she’s from Northland.  Soon after the article was published, Stuff corrected their story to this effect.

All four complainants also claimed the article’s religious bias was part of a continuing Stuff campaign against the Christian-based college on gender issues.

Other concerns involved the harm resulting from falsely calling de Klerk a bully and transphobic; her reasonable expectation of privacy; and the reporter’s suitability.

The Council ruling

The Council ruled the article breached Principle 1:

“Publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance, and should not deliberately mislead or misinform …

“… a fair voice must be given to the opposition view.”

It was a significant error for the headline to accuse de Klerk of bullying, the Council ruled. Despite Stuff’s swift correction, an internet search continues to reveal the original headline, it noted.

The Council did not uphold the complaints on the other principles.


Additional reading

News category: New Zealand, Palmerston.

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