McKenzie and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2022-141 (1 May 2023)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- John Gillespie
- Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
- Aroha Beck
- Anne McKenzie
ProgrammeWeb of Chaos
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint the documentary Web of Chaos breached multiple standards. The complainant alleged the broadcast represented ‘women who like sewing and interior design as extremists’, which was allegedly ‘racist, sexist, anti-Christian and anti-women of Celtic origin’, lacked any balancing comment from women involved in the community, contained multiple inaccuracies, and was unfair. The Authority found the broadcast did not discriminate against or denigrate any of the nominated sections of the community and the broadcast was materially accurate. This was because the relevant comments were not claiming that all people participating in online craft communities were white nationalists, but rather these communities (like many other online communities) were exposing inadvertent users to extremist ideas. The balance and fairness standards did not apply.
Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration, Accuracy, Balance, Fairness
 The documentary Web of Chaos, broadcast on 1 November 2022, investigated the world of misinformation and disinformation and its spread throughout Aotearoa New Zealand and the world. It included discussions on the use of various social media platforms; their effect on human behaviour; and the implications of disinformation on ‘social cohesion and democracy.’
 The documentary included interviews with various experts / commentators on the issue, including Kate Hannah from The Disinformation Project. A key discussion point Hannah makes throughout the documentary is that ‘people who are not ordinarily exposed to conspiratorial thinking and conspiratorial ideas’ become exposed to it unintentionally (through another’s mal‑intent) while seeking other information. One example she provides is that people may have sought information about COVID‑19, but receive further information about ‘who's responsible for the virus and then link in to broader conspiratorial thinking.’
 Throughout the broadcast Hannah discussed how people can be exposed to extremist or white nationalist ideas, as well as conspiracy theories. In one segment she stated:
You can draw people in in lots of different places and each of the platforms are used in different ways. What is known internationally as the kind of ‘tradwife’ set of viewpoints, which is white, Christian, a lot of pseudo-Celtic, pseudo-Nordic ideologies behind it. They use Pinterest and Instagram to draw in other women who are interested in interior design, children's clothing, knitting, healthy food for children. And it does draw people in towards a set of white nationalist ideas. I mean, it's relatively easy to see, if you see a very beautiful, fair skinned, blonde or red haired child with beautiful braiding in her hair and some flowers, just step back a little bit. Which is really distressing because that's my heritage.
 It then transitioned to footage from the occupation at Parliament to a person (whose face is blurred) stating ‘And us women, I think what we have to do is sometimes back off and be that little submissive person.’
 Anne McKenzie complained the broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration, balance, accuracy and fairness standards of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand for the following key reasons:
Discrimination and denigration
- Hannah presents conspiracy theories that demonise women who like sewing and interior design as extremists, ‘that they have very “Christian” and “pseudo Celtic / Nordic ideologies” and that they use their “platforms” to “draw people in” to a set of viewpoints “that are very white nationalistic”.’
- She did not include men or Māori women who love crafts as being part of these allegedly white nationalist online groups, ‘making her racism and sexism very clear’.
- ‘Hannah is putting other women into imaginary group-like boxes based on their skin colour and interests, and dreaming up whatever she wants to diminish them. She even expects people to listen to her disgraceful commentary on “children with blonde or red hair”. “Just stand back” she says, as if these children all carry grenades.’
- These were ‘derogatory, harmful and offensive portrayals of women and children’ and ‘Her piece is racist, sexist, anti-Christian, anti-women of Celtic origin. It is uninformed, biased, cruel, offensive and incredibly damaging.’
- ‘Hannah refers to women who like “traditional” activities in a very stereotypical, one dimensional fashion. She refers to them as “rad wives” presumably a phrase she has made up with some sort of academic reasoning to give legitimacy to her crazy theories.’
- ‘[S]he has not interviewed women like me to give our insights into why we do our craft.’ There is no balance in this story.
- ‘If she talked to me she'd discover the vital role creative pursuits can play in the process of rehabilitation from mental and physical injury.’ These pursuits can have many benefits for people, and can be important to people who have experienced brain trauma, both for their recovery, and for their own self-worth.
- Hannah’s statements were controversial and of public importance; it is controversial because disinformation is highly subjective.
- Hannah states her opinion. She does not present any facts and ‘she is making misleading statements that misinform the public.’
- Hannah did not provide evidence ‘to support her theories that crafts are being used as a trojan horse to draw people into other channels’ or that being of ‘white Christian Celtic ancestry indicates [a] risk to the public’.
- ‘We all know that these women are not the people bombing concerts attended by teenagers, blowing up metro stations, driving trucks into crowded outdoor spaces or shooting up classrooms in America. We all know these women are not lone psychopaths hiding underground and accumulating immense arsenals of guns.’
- She did not say that 'some' of these websites contain white supremacist agendas. She made no differentiation. She does not say 'sometimes' these themes and imagery are being used to cover a malicious purpose.
- She tries to instil a sense of fear ‘around women like me without any right of reply.’
 On referral to the Authority, the complainant also raised the offensive and disturbing content standard as having been breached, as she found the association of white women in online crafts communities with white nationalism and extremism to be ‘highly offensive’. Under section 8(1B) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority is only able to consider complaints under the standard(s) raised in the original complaint to the broadcaster. However, in limited circumstances, the Authority can consider standards not raised in the original complaint where it can be reasonably implied into the wording, and where it is reasonably necessary in order to properly consider the complaint.1
 In our view the offensive and disturbing content standard is not reasonably necessary in order to properly consider the complaint, as the discrimination and denigration standard adequately captures the concerns raised by the complainant in this regard. Therefore, our decision is limited to the standards raised in the initial complaint to the broadcaster.
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ did not uphold McKenzie’s complaint for the following key reasons:
Discrimination and denigration
- The complainant ‘has misunderstood what Kate said. The section [the complainant] refers to is about how people can be drawn down rabbit holes of disinformation through “bait” -- such as seemingly innocent wholesome posts about things like healthy food, knitting, pickling etc... which can be used as a “trojan horse” that directs the follower to agendas about issues like white supremacy, for example.’
- ‘Kate does not suggest that all posts about such crafts and pursuits contain white nationalist agendas, but instead just suggests some critical reading of what's presented -- which she also says is regrettable because "that's my heritage". This is a resilience technique that is commonly referred to as “pre-bunking” -- providing people with insights that allow them to spot disinformation when they stumble across it.’
- ‘Kate Hannah is not discriminating against women of Celtic ancestry, or denigrating those which enjoy craft and wellness sites, rather she is saying that sometimes imagery and themes from such sites is being used to cover a malicious purpose.’
- ‘[TVNZ] does not agree that idea that disinformation about a range of subjects is occurring in New Zealand and around the world is controversial or requires “balancing material be broadcast.”’
- ‘[Hannah] is not saying that wellness and crafts, or people, women, of Celtic ancestry are inherently problematic, rather that these images and themes are sometimes being used maliciously and for consumers of such sites to be wary. The statement “just stand back” is used to give consumers the idea that they should not be uncritical consumers of such sites as some could be malicious. [TVNZ] does not agree that this advice is misleading or inaccurate.’
- The complaint did not refer to an individual or organisation taking part in or referred to in the broadcast, so the standard does not apply.
The relevant standards
 We consider the complainant’s concerns are best addressed under the discrimination and denigration and accuracy standards.
 The discrimination and denigration standard2 protects against broadcasts which encourage the discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.
 The purpose of the accuracy standard3 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.4 It states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure news, current affairs or factual content is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. Where a material error of fact has occurred, broadcasters should correct it within a reasonable period after they have been put on notice.
 We deal with the remaining standards briefly at paragraph .
 We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh up the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.5
Discrimination and Denigration
 The discrimination and denigration standard does not apply to individuals, but to recognised ‘sections of the community’. The complainant has alleged the standard was breached due Hannah’s treatment of women, Christians and people of Celtic ancestry. We accept that these communities each constitute a section of society for the purposes of the standard, and were discussed during the broadcast. Therefore the standard applies.
 'Discrimination’ is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community to their detriment. ‘Denigration’ is defined as devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community.6 A high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, will usually be necessary to find that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in breach of the standard.7
 The complainant considered white Christian women of Celtic ancestry were devalued by Hannah’s connections to ‘tradwives’8 and white nationalism. In the documentary, Hannah stated ‘You can draw people in in lots of different places and each of the platforms are used in different ways’. She then states examples of how Instagram and Pinterest can be used to promote ‘tradwife’ content, which she claims is linked to far-right ideas such as white nationalism.9
 Hannah did not claim that all people using these websites or participating in crafts have a particular gender, religious or ethnic background, or that all people of these backgrounds (participating in crafts or not) are white supremacists. In this context, we do not consider the broadcast had the effect of discriminating against, or denigrating, any particular section of the community.
 Determination of a complaint under the accuracy standard occurs in two steps. The first step is to consider whether the programme was inaccurate or misleading. The second step is to consider whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure that the programme was accurate and did not mislead.
 The requirement for factual accuracy does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion.10
 We consider the broadcast was materially accurate and unlikely to mislead viewers. Viewers would have understood Hannah to be providing her expert opinion, to which she is entitled, based on her current research and experiences. Further, as noted at paragraph , we do not consider reasonable viewers to understand Hannah to be stating all members of crafts communities were involved in extremist activity.
 Turning to the concerns raised by the complainant regarding specific statements:
- Inaccurate to state online crafts communities are being used to promote white supremacist ideas: The broadcast claims that online crafts communities can promote ‘tradwife’ ideas, and links these ideas to white nationalism. Instagram and Pinterest (platforms singled out in the broadcast) do contain persons spreading ideas related to ‘tradwives’,11 a community that in turn is known to be linked to white nationalist ideas.12
- Women are not involved in extremist violence: The broadcast does not claim women in the groups referred to are involved in extremist violence, rather that they are involved in conspiratorial ideas, which Hannah considers is a risk to the public (as is her opinion), and illustrated with subsequent footage from the occupation at Parliament. We also highlight that women can, like any other section of the community, be involved in communities that spread misinformation or extremist ideas.13 We consider viewers would have understood Hannah to be making the point that no one is immune to disinformation.
- Hannah should have couched statements by using the word ‘sometimes’: The broadcast does not state every instance of online crafting content or image of a white child is promoting white nationalism. Rather it states: ‘You can draw people in in lots of different places and each of the platforms are used in different ways’, clearly indicating to the audience the risk that many online communities can promote these ideas, rather than every post on these websites promotes these ideas.
 In any case, Hannah, and her colleagues at The Disinformation Project, are experts in the fields of online misinformation, disinformation and extremism.14 Deferring to reputable experts in this area allows the public to benefit from their expertise (including the knowledge of their recent research).15 The broadcaster is entitled to rely on these experts, and this constitutes reasonable efforts to ensure accuracy in their programming under the standards.16
 We also note the complainant’s desire for the inclusion of more specific evidence to support each statement of fact. We consider this effectively amounts to a matter of personal preference regarding what the broadcast should cover.17 As recognised in section 5(c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, such matters are not, in general, capable of being resolved by a complaints procedure.
 Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.
 We consider the remaining standards raised in the complaint did not apply in the circumstances:
- Balance:18 This standard ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.19 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.20 While the spread of extremist views in online communities (such as craft communities) is of public importance in New Zealand, the issue identified by the complainant (people’s motivation for sharing crafts online) is not. For completeness, and for the reasons outlined at paragraphs –, we do not consider the broadcast ‘slandered’ women participating in such crafts (what appears to be the complainant’s major concern under this standard). In any case, in the context of a programme discussing online misinformation and extremism from a wide variety of sources, the audience would not expect this type of balancing comment in response to this particular issue.21
- Fairness:22 The fairness standard is concerned with preventing undue harm to the dignity and reputation of any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.23 The complainant has not identified any person or organisation for the purposes of this standard, apart from potentially themselves. However, they did not take part in the broadcast and were not referred to in the programme. On this basis, the standard does not apply.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
1 May 2023
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Anne McKenzie's formal complaint to TVNZ – 6 November 2022
2 TVNZ’s decision on complaint – 30 November 2022
3 McKenzie's referral to the Authority – 16 December 2022
4 TVNZ confirming no further comments – 2 February 2023
1 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd  NZHC 131,  NZAR 407 at 
2 Standard 4, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
3 Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
4 Commentary, Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 16
5 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
6 Guideline 4.1
7 Guideline 4.2
8 For more information on the term ‘’tradwife”, see: Hayley Freeman “‘Tradwives’: the new trend for submissive women has a dark heart and history” The Guardian (online ed, 27 January 2020); Amy Hunt “What is a 'tradwife' - and why is the idea proving so controversial?” Woman and Home (online ed, 25 January 2020)
9 Sarah Lang “'Submissive wives have happy lives': Inside the tradwife movement that wants to turn back time” Stuff (online ed, 22 November 2022); Harmeet Kaur “‘Tradwives’ promote a lifestyle that evokes the 1950s. But their nostalgia is not without controversy” CNN (online ed, 27 December 2022)
10 Guideline 6.1
11 Sarah Lang “'Submissive wives have happy lives': Inside the tradwife movement that wants to turn back time” Stuff (online ed, 22 November 2022); Nicole Froio “'Trad wives' are using social media to romanticize a return to 'traditional values' as more and more women face post-COVID work/life balance burnout” Insider (online ed, 8 November 2022); Sandra Markus & Ioana Literat “Unraveling the Politics of Knitting” Columbia (online ed, 3 September 2019); Ye Bin Won, Meili Criezis and Jordan Chapman “Influential Moms: Examining Extremist Influencer Mothers” Global Network on Extremism and Technology (online ed, 7 December 2022): “It is important to note that not all content produced by extremist mothers is overtly extremist. As a means to avoid deplatforming on mainstream platforms, extremists utilise various content moderation evasion techniques or elect to cloak their extremism with the language of faith, family values, and seemingly banal aesthetics.”
12 Nicole Froio “'Trad wives' are using social media to romanticize a return to 'traditional values' as more and more women face post-COVID work/life balance burnout” Insider (online ed, 8 November 2022): ‘Some trad wives might create content because they want to promote old-fashioned values, while others might use it to perpetuate white supremacist and conservative views.’; Harmeet Kaur “‘Tradwives’ promote a lifestyle that evokes the 1950s. But their nostalgia is not without controversy” CNN (online ed, 27 December 2022): ‘If you’re a White influencer who’s espousing these things, there will be a quite pleasing overlap with how many White supremacists configure gender politics, because it coincides with lots of the alt right theories about what has gone wrong in the West.’; Christ Stokel-Walker “Behind the Rise of the Online ‘Tradwife’ Movement” Vice (online ed, 10 March 2023)
13 Eviane Leidig | International Centre for Counter-Terrorism “"We Are Worth Fighting for": Women in Far-Right Extremism” (26 October 2021) <icct.nl/>: ‘The impact of women in far-right extremism is more consequential than most people realise. Although it is easy to spot the deadly effects of terrorism, there is something much more sinister about how women can appeal to young men to join far-right extremist movements, aiding them in the radicalisation process.’; Council on Foreign Relations “Women and Terrorism” (May 2019) <www.cfr.org>
14 The Disinformation Project “About us” <thedisinfoproject.org>; Auckland Writers Festival “Kate Hannah” <writersfestival.co.nz>; Royal Society “Trust, misinformation and social in(ex)clusion” (accessed 21 March 2023) <royalsociety.org.nz>; Selwyn Community Education “Think Talk: Disinformation, Democracy, and the Common Good: Aotearoa New Zealand in 2023” (accessed 21 March 2023) <selwyncomed.school.nz>
15 See NZDSOS Inc. and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-005 at 
16 Guideline 6.3
17 See Schon and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-080 at  for a similar finding
18 Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
19 Commentary, Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 14
20 Guideline 5.1
21 Guideline 5.4
22 Standard 8, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
23 Standard 8, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand