12 Jun 2023

'We are in the war': Ukrainian man says altered stories on RNZ must be taken seriously

11:23 am on 12 June 2023
A microphone with the RNZ logo on it.

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

A Ukrainian man who complained about an RNZ story last year having Russian propaganda says his concerns are only now being noticed.

It comes after the revelation a staff member altered Reuters copy to include pro-Russian sentiment.

Since Friday, 250 articles published on RNZ back to January last year have been audited.

Of those articles, 16 are now known to have been altered, and an RNZ employee has been placed on leave. Fourteen of the articles were from the Reuters wire service, and one was from BBC.

An independent review of the editing of online stories has been commissioned by RNZ.

Michael Lidski, who wrote the complaint, signed by several Ukrainian and Russian-born New Zealanders said the article he complained about appeared not only on RNZ, but New Zealand Herald and Newshub as well.

Lidski said it took some time after the article was published to send the complaint letter to RNZ to make sure everyone who signed it was happy with what it said.

It was received by RNZ on the evening of Labour Day, 24 October.

"Obviously Russia is the aggressor and behaving very similar to what the Nazi Germany did in the beginning of the Second World War," Lidski said.

"Luckily", he said, Russia was much less "efficient" and "successful on the front" but not so luckily, they were "very efficient" in their propaganda.

Lidski said he also sent the complaint to Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson and other media outlets - but Jackson was the only one to provide any response.

Lidski said Jackson's response essentially said the government could not interfere with the press and refrained from "taking sides".

As part of the audit RNZ reviewed the story published on rnz.co.nz on 26 May, 2022 relating to the war in Ukraine, which it said was updated later that day to give further balance after an editorial process was followed.

When Lidski sent his letter, he said he received no response from RNZ.

He said he would be waiting to see what comes of the external review.

"I just want to stress that we are not dealing with a situation where someone just made a mistake.

"We are in the war, the enemy is attacking us, it's very important that, you know, we take it seriously."

RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson declined to speak with Morning Report on Monday, describing the breaches of editorial standards as extremely serious.

In a statement, Thompson said it was a "very challenging time for RNZ and the organisation's focus is on getting to the bottom of what happened and being open and transparent".