STUFF reporter accuses documentary of disinformation without seeing it

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Sep 01, 2023 |

An email sent by a Stuff reporter to a New Zealand filmmaker questioning the content of a yet to be released documentary has provoked concern over journalistic principles.

The documentary “River of Freedom” provides an intimate portrayal of the New Zealand Convoy and Parliament protests that occurred in February and March 2022.

Additionally, the documentary highlights key High Court rulings from 2022. Notably, a ruling that found that mandates for the Police and Defence services infringed upon the Bill of Rights of New Zealanders.

The film was made by Gaylene Barnes, who has worked on several highly acclaimed documentaries.

Stuff reporter Frances Chin emailed Gaylene Barnes on Monday with a predetermined angle: “I am going to publish that the documentary is promoting anti-vaccination and anti-mandate views, which Stuff and Disinformation Project Kate Hannah clearly classify as disinformation. Would you or anyone else involved in the production of River of Freedom care to speak with me for the article?”

Chris Lynch Media has viewed the email exchange.

Barnes was willing to address any written queries and sought an explanation for the term “disinformation.”

In response, Chin cited the definition of “disinformation” from the Disinformation Project, led by PhD candidate and cultural historian Kate Hannah, as “false information created with the intention of harming a person, group, or organisation, or even a company”. Additionally, she shared definitions for “misinformation” and “malinformation”.

In the follow up email, Chin’s first question was “What is the documentary about?” and later asked, “If I called the documentary a “disinformation” film would you agree with this?”

Barnes replied, “I find it unsettling that you, as a journalist, would make such a bold assumption, especially given you haven’t watched the film. I invite you to watch it for yourself and come to your own conclusions.”

Barnes further emphasised the film’s authenticity, stating it had no intention of promoting falsehoods.

The documentary was an attempt to hold the powerful accountable, echoing the sentiments of many New Zealanders who felt their voices went unheard, she said.

“We’ve interviewed people right across the spectrum… Most people were concerned about the growing divisions appearing in their communities and what they felt was government overreach.”

The documentary’s Christchurch screening at Hoyts has sold out.

Barnes later told Chris Lynch Media it was a “really really rude assumption to make. And particularly, she hasn’t seen the documentary and what sort of journalist is that right?”

Chris Lynch Media contacted Frances Chin, querying whether forming opinions devoid of prior research was in accordance with responsible journalism.

Stuff’s Wellington Chief News Director Marc Greenhill responded: “Frances could have been clearer about the intended line of questioning [with] her first contact with the filmmakers, hence the revised set of questions seeking to better understand the film’s content.

Re Kate Hannah, we view the Disinformation Project as a legitimate source for commentary on misinformation/disinformation.”

Kate Hannah has been approached for comment.

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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