I write with regard to a story written by Tom Hunt and published on Stuff and in the Dominion Post on Wednesday 12 August under the headline “Concerns over NZDF cluster”.
We believe the selective use of information and the deliberate use of pejorative language makes the piece both misleading and unfair. This is particularly notable given the context that this story was published the morning after the Government raised the COVID-19 Alert Level due to a resurgence of community transmission.
Firstly, the story only makes clear we are talking about April half way through the story. Nowhere in the headline “Concerns over NZDF cluster”, and the first six paras, does the writer or Stuff make clear that we are talking about matters that occurred months ago. In the current circumstances this is misleading and potentially alarming to a public already feeling concerned about the recent resurgence.
Mr Hunt writes in his introduction that NZDF personnel failed to self-isolate. In fact, all of the group carried out self-isolation in their home locations in accordance with the requirements of the Ministry of Health at the time. For some personnel their home location was barracks accommodation and for this reason the NZDF put in place additional constraints including extending isolation time to ensure there was no risk to the public. We understand that the writer has quoted text from OIA’d emails, but it is disingenuous to do so out of context. NZDF collaborated closely with the Ministry of Health to work through the implication of self- isolating in shared accommodation – a situation for which there was no established guidance. We note that at the time there were no managed isolation facilities, and many New Zealanders ‘self-isolated’ within family groups at home.
The reporter’s contention that there was some failure here by the NZDF is not accurate – in fact additional measures were imposed that meant we absolutely prioritised the prevention of any potential risk to the public. You will note there were no infections passed on from this group to the public precisely because of the strict health measures imposed.
Lastly, we are also concerned that Mr Hunt chose to report the fact that NZDF did not know specific details of how the virus was contracted, which is not information we would be expected to know or speculate on – as “The NZDF remained clueless”, which is clearly emotive language.
We would suggest that writing of this kind is better suited to a clearly labelled opinion piece and not a piece of reportage. It does the reporter and the website and newspaper no credit.
Ordinarily we would not take the time to contact you about the tone and balance of your reporting. However, following the publication of the piece several of the NZDF personnel referred to have been contacted by members of the public by phone and social media in what can only be described as a bullying manner. We are concerned that stigmatising those with the virus risks people failing to be willing report symptoms thereby jeopardising public health. NZDF considers that its affected personnel did exactly what was required of them by the health guidance at the time and in doing so ensured that they diligently did not pose any additional risk to NZ.
In the current climate of uncertainty and concern over COVID-19 we believe that trusted journalism has never been more important. Unfortunately, this piece has not lived up to that expectation.
We look forward to your response.