JOHN CHEN AGAINST WAIKATO WEEKLY

Case Number: 2609

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2017

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Waikato Weekly

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Conflict of Interest
Unfair Coverage

Overview

The New Zealand Press Council has upheld a complaint against the Waikato Weekly by John Chen of the Falun Dafa Association of New Zealand. Mr Chen complained that two reports in the April 13 issue breached principles of accuracy, fairness and balance, presented opinion as fact and were written from a conflict of interest that was not declared.

The first report, on page 10, was entitled, “Grand social event held recognising achievement of New Zealand Chinese community in welcoming Premier Li Keqiang to New Zealand”. The second, on page 12, was entitled, “Large Demonstration held by Chinese community groups protesting against the Falun Gong ‘Shen Yun’ performances and revealing the true facts”.

The Complaint

Mr Chen complained that the articles were severely critical of the Falun Gong, describing it as a cult carrying out “despicable and disgraceful actions”, seeking to harass and sabotage the Chinese Government and its friendly relations with New Zealand. The articles suggested its Shen Yun stage show had the same political purpose. After the articles appeared, Mr Chen and other members of Falun Gong approached theWaikato Weekly asking for their views to be fairly reported but were not given the opportunity.

The Response

In response to Mr Chen’s complaint to the Press Council, the director of Waikato Weekly, Zhu Xi told the Council the articles were supplied by Chinese community organisations. He confirmed he was the current President of the China Peaceful Reunification Federation of New Zealand but said the Waikato Weekly does not belong to any organisations. He characterised it as, “an independent community newspaper/business”. He rejected Mr Chen’s accusation that the publication had a conflict of interest.

Mr Zhu said that since the articles appeared he has been harassed by phone calls and protests in front of his office by people displaying banners, playing loud music and distributing leaflets against him. The police had been called but they took no action.

The Decision

In its decision, the Press Council found it fair to describe Falun Gong as a cult, a word commonly applied to a movement outside the mainstream of a religious or cultural tradition and having its own distinctive practices and beliefs. But the Council found the Waikato Weekly articles to be unfair and unbalanced because they sought no views from the cult being severely criticised and gave it no right of reply.

The articles were presented as factual reports though they were highly opinionated, especially the second article. Items of opinion do not need to observe the rules of fairness and balance expected of a factual report, but they must be clearly labelled as opinion and identify whose opinion it is. According to Mr Zhu they were supplied by community organisations but the articles do not carry the names of an organisation and would be read as the views of theWaikato Weekly. In any case, the newspaper director’s affiliation with the China Peaceful Reunification Federation presents a conflict of interest for a publication that calls itself an independent community newspaper and ought to have been declared.

The Press Council believes the large and growing Chinese community in New Zealand deserves its own newspapers that meet the standards of fairness and professionalism expected of all news media in this country. The Council welcomes theWaikato Weekly’s acceptance of those standards through its membership of the Community Newspapers’ Association and offers its advice if publications wish to take it.

Press Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, John Roughan, Hank Schouten, Mark Stevens, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.