Call for inquiry as more RNZ stories edited

An internal RNZ audit has been launched to find stories incorrectly edited. Photo: RNZ
An internal RNZ audit has been launched to find stories incorrectly edited. Photo: RNZ

There are calls for the Government to launch an independent inquiry after further edits appearing to be sympathetic to authoritarian regimes have emerged in stories on Radio New Zealand’s website.

Act Party leader David Seymour has called on Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson to commission an inquiry into the state-owned media organisation.

More changes to Reuters content on RNZ’s website have been found, some edits appearing to be sympathetic towards Palestine and the militant group Hamas in the conflict in Gaza and China’s position in its treatment of Uyghurs.

On RNZ’s self-published list of problematic stories, it has now also included an article about a North Korean ballistic missile launch and one about Serbia accusing Ukraine of bomb hoax threats on Air Serbia planes.

It comes after RNZ journalist Michael Hall was stood down for editing Reuters and BBC stories to include “pro-Kremlin garbage”, as chief executive and editor-in-chief Paul Thompson described it. 

Hall revealed he had edited stories “that way” since he started working for the state-owned media organisation and was never spoken to about it in five years. 

The New Zealand Herald has repeatedly approached Hall for comment.

An internal RNZ audit has been launched to find any stories incorrectly edited - with RNZ now admitting at least 22 such stories have been found.

In a statement to the Herald, RNZ said the “audit is continuing to review a large number of stories edited by the RNZ journalist”.

“To date more than 300 stories have been reviewed. The external review will be led by the Board who will decide the terms of reference for that review, the areas to be covered and the external experts involved. This information will be confirmed as soon as possible and will be made public - as will the outcome of the review,” RNZ’s statement said.

RNZ’s board was due to meet tonight. 

Further edits uncovered today in a Reuters story on RNZ’s website about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict include changing the phrase: “Hamas, which runs the blockaded Gaza Strip” to “Hamas, the elected government of the blockaded Gaza Strip”.

Another edit to a Reuters story was the removal of “the United States says China is committing genocide” in a story about China’s mass detention of Muslim Uyghurs.

In another Reuters story about Latin American politics, RNZ omitted a sentence about Cuba being accused of mistreating its doctors and pressuring them to take part in political activities, which Cuba denied.

Seymour said RNZ’s assurance that the issue was limited to stories about the Russian invasion of Ukraine is “clearly incorrect”.

“Unless they can confirm immediately that only one rogue person is responsible, then the Minister needs to step in,” he said.

RNZ has been approached for comment on the latest edits and whether Hall is the journalist responsible for the edits.

Speaking on the radio station’s Nine to Noon show yesterday, Thompson said there had been a “serious breach of our standards, which is really disappointing”.

He said there wasn’t any evidence that more than one person was involved in adding incorrect information to the stories they had identified, but the “editing systems are not as robust as they need to be”.

He said the editing of stories to include “pro-Kremlin garbage” was “inexcusable”, saying it breached the organisation’s standards.

He claimed the audit had revealed the problem was isolated to “one area” and said “of course” the journalist responsible had been spoken to.

Hall, however, told RNZ’s Checkpoint programme yesterday no one had spoken to him about the edits made. 

“I subbed several stories that way over the past number of years, in fact, since I started [at] Radio New Zealand,” Hall told Checkpoint in a statement read by host Lisa Owen.

“And I have done that for five years and no one has tapped me on the shoulder and nobody told me I was doing anything wrong.”

Seymour called the content Russian, Palestinian and Chinese propaganda and said the inclusion of it in stories from a state-owned media organisation was “appalling”.

“New Zealanders should be able to trust our state broadcaster to be totally and utterly impartial,” he said.

“RNZ has said it will appoint a panel and write the terms of reference for an investigation. This is clearly no longer tenable.

“In order to restore trust, Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson needs to commission an investigation that is totally independent of RNZ.”