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Opinion fine, inaccuracy not, rules Media Council on biology altering claims

05 March 2019

The Media Council has upheld, in part, a complaint of discrimination and of inaccuracy against the New Zealand Herald over an opinion column.

Rachel Stewart had written, in what it says was forthright and colloquial language, opposing a proposed legislative change to permit individuals to change the details of their sex as registered at birth. She specifically objected to the term TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) to describe her stance on the issue. She added that American transgender groups were funded by billionaires Warren Buffett and George Soros, “Because investors want to help normalise the altering of basic human biology, and Big Pharma stands to make a fortune. It’s already started.”

The Media Council did not uphold the complaint of discrimination, finding that it is the function of free media to provide a platform for the expression of views reflecting strongly held convictions and for the debate about them, even if some of those views are expressed in a way that is offensive, disrespectful, or extreme by many people’s standards. The passages to which the complainant objected were relevant to the discussion of transgender rights and to issues that the proposed legislation will have to address.

However, the complaint of inaccuracy was upheld. The Media Council says neither Ms Stewart nor the New Zealand Herald offered any evidence in support of the idea that major pharmaceutical companies and those who invest in them have a commercial interest in helping “normalise the altering of basic human biology” and in particular they offered no evidence that “It’s already started”.

While it could be possible to dismiss part of the passage as offering a theory about the motives of pharmaceutical companies and their investors, the last three words could only be taken as a statement of fact, for which no evidence was offered. The Council noted that the information online and elsewhere is often dubious and unreliable.  “Readers should be able to rely on mainstream media for accuracy,” it says.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019