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WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Editorial processes at New Zealand’s national radio broadcaster need greater oversight and training, according to an independent review undertaken after Radio New Zealand (RNZ) found stories published on its website were altered to present “a false account of events.”
After being alerted to concerns about stories in June, Radio New Zealand, which is government-funded but has editorial independence, has since corrected 49 stories on its website dating back to December 2018 because of what it termed “inappropriate editing.”
The stories RNZ corrected, which include articles on the war in Ukraine, China-Taiwan relations, Latin American politics and the Middle East, were edited versions of 40 reports provided by Reuters, seven from Britain’s BBC, and two which were a consolidation from multiple international sources with local reporting.
The review, released late Wednesday, August 2, found that one journalist, whom the report declined to identify and said has since resigned, had breached editorial standards with inappropriate editing of overseas wire stories, including adding a pro-Russian perspective on the invasion of Ukraine.
One story was edited on RNZ’s website to read that in 2014 “a pro-Russian elected government was toppled during Ukraine’s violent Maidan color revolution.” The piece then inaccurately claimed that “Russia annexed Crimea after a referendum, as the new pro-Western government suppressed ethnic Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine.”
Pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich was toppled in 2014 in what became known as the Maidan Revolution after months of protests triggered by his reneging on a promise to forge tighter links with the European Union. Dozens of protesters were killed.
The referendum on Crimea was deemed a sham by Ukraine and most Western governments. They have also accused Russia of using false allegations of suppression of ethnic Russians to justify pro-Moscow separatist groups declaring independence in eastern Ukraine.
The review found the journalist “genuinely believed he was acting appropriately to provide balance and accuracy.”
The review has recommended combining RNZ’s digital news team with its main news operations, introducing a new role focused on improving editorial standards, and undertaking ongoing assessment of editorial output against editorial policy. It also recommended increased training.
Radio New Zealand’s board chairman Jim Mather said in a statement that two of the more significant recommendations – combining digital news with the main news operation, and having a new role focused on raising editorial standards – are already being implemented.
Mather said the board had confidence the chief executive and his team would implement the other changes professionally and as speedily as possible.
In the statement, RNZ chief executive and editor in chief Paul Thompson welcomed the findings of the review, saying it offered constructive recommendations.
“We also acknowledge there are areas for improvement which we will address, particularly around the areas of training, process and complaint management.”
The panel who undertook the review included New Zealand media law expert Willy Akel, public law expert and former journalist Linda Clark and former director of editorial standards at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Alan Sunderland.
Sunderland and Clark referred Reuters back to RNZ for any further comment on the report. Akel said he nothing more to add.
RNZ is a media client of Reuters. Reuters and the BBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the findings of the review. – Rappler.com