New Zealand Law Society - Media Council condemns ‘sexist’ views published in online article

Media Council condemns ‘sexist’ views published in online article

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The Media Council has upheld a complaint against an article that included terms the complainant described as “misogynist views on women in science for a cheap headline grab”.

The Stuff article on 23 February 2020 was headlinedWhitebaiter blames ‘chick scientists’ for Government proposals”.

The opening sentence read: “A Fish and Game councillor believes court action should be investigated if proposals – influenced by “chick scientists” who think whitebaiters should hold hands and sing kumbaya – are in fact passed.”

The councillor, Ken Cochrane, was quoted as saying: “What I’m listening to is a whole bunch of chick scientists – and if you really looked at the view they were pitching – (it) was everybody in New Zealand should not shave their armpits, they should wear dreadlocks, and when they go whitebaiting they should do it in jandals only. And after they catch one patty for tea they should sit down and sing kumbaya.”

The complainant, the NZ Freshwater Sciences Society, said it was “appalled and disappointed … It seems Stuff is happy to perpetuate and spread misogynist views on women in science for a cheap headline grab.”

Stuff initially responded saying the: “ridiculous quote …. highlights how archaic his (Cochrane’s) point of view is”.

In its decision the Media Council said it: “agrees with the editor that this was a story worthy of reporting, and that the consequences of its publication went some way to address balance. But in the Council’s view, damage was done by the unrelievedly derogatory, denigratory and sexist view covered so strongly by the headline, lead sentence and the further reporting in the article, of Mr Cochrane’s views on “chick scientists”. This supports the complainants’ view that the story “normalises and perpetuates sexism in society” and in relation to women in science, and was not balanced. It is regrettable that the Stuff story, although a strong and valuable piece of reporting, had no balancing comment at all.”

The complaint on fairness and balance was upheld by a majority of Council members – five for with four against.

The four members of the Council who did not feel the decision be upheld said that the media has an important role in ensuring the public knows when those in positions of authority behave poorly, and that Stuff did so decisively which resulted in a public outcry against Mr Cochrane, including calls for his resignation.