The Media Council has upheld a complaint about article linking the anti-1080 movement with a group described as “alt-right”.
On March 21, 2019 Stuff published an opinion piece by Pattrick Smellie headed “Facebook’s intolerable insult to New Zealand after Mosque shootings”.
The column largely focused on the tech platforms’ role in disseminating material about the Christchurch Mosque attacks. Mr Smellie also wrote: “people travelling to the Womad festival in New Plymouth were confronted by a bridge in the city festooned not only with anti-1080 signs, but also with placards carrying web addresses for the alt-right QAnon movement.”
Gary Howat complained, saying the column was inaccurate as the link between the 1080 movement and the gun lobby was unsubstantiated; and that while there may have been posters on the bridge for both groups, there was no actual link between the groups.
Stuff’s initial response noted that whilst the comments may be provocative and upsetting to some, it was not a reason to not publish them.
In a second response Stuff said MrSmellie “clearly explained the connecting thread which had led him to referencing the anti-1080 movement as deserving ‘an early flag for security services seeking to prevent another Christchurch-style massacre’.”
In its decision, the Media Council said the majority of those investigating the complainted felt it breached Principle 4 of its standards on comment and fact.
“The majority notes that there is nothing within the Stuff response or overall complaint to establish unequivocally that there were posters linking QAnon and the anti-1080 movement,” it said.
“[Mr] Smellie saw posters for each on a bridge enroute to Womad. There is no evidence that a single poster referenced both organisations, thereby fairly justifying Smellie’s statement that the anti-1080 movement is declaring a link. It is a long bow, to draw.
“The dissenting members believe that while Mr Smellie’s argument some signs on a bridge amount to the anti-1080 lobby as a whole declaring a link to QAnon is a very long bow to draw, it does not amount to a breach of the principle regarding opinion columns. The decision comes down to whether Mr Smellie’s views were based on accurate material facts.”