Stuff documentary about New Zealand’s Parliament protest gains 1.39 million views

By Paula Penfold

Stuff Limited

Auckland, New Zealand


In January 2022, inspired by the “truckers’ convoy” in Canada, protestors opposing COVID-19 vaccines and mandates rallied from all over New Zealand, congregating on Parliament’s grounds in the capital city of Wellington.

They set up camp and settled into a month-long occupation, which ended only when police finally moved to shut it down. That led to a violent riot.

Stuff’s investigative team, Stuff Circuit, delved into the beliefs and backgrounds of the inciters driving the protest, the key spreaders of mis- and disinformation, and how they were recruiting mainstream New Zealanders to their cause. The Stuff Circuit investigations are released on the platform and reported across Stuff’s wide range of digital and print products.

At the Parliament protest, leaders tried to convey the occupation as one of “peace and love” that was concerned only with government COVID-19 response measures. But when they started talking about making the country “ungovernable” and calling for a military overthrow of the government, it became clear there was a more concerning agenda.

Stuff Circuit, the investigative division of Stuff, went inside the 2022 protests at the Parliament and created its most-watched documentary to date.
Stuff Circuit, the investigative division of Stuff, went inside the 2022 protests at the Parliament and created its most-watched documentary to date.

Going inside the protest

Stuff Circuit analysed hundreds of hours of the key protest drivers’ own video and used that footage to show our audience what was really driving these disseminators of disinformation, how they were all interconnected, and that their messages were not all concerned with peace and love.

We used a rigorous and unusual editorial process, concluding with the rare journalistic decision not to give the protagonists a right to reply. We published an op-ed the day before the release of the documentary, explaining the rationale for this unusual decision and why we had decided to give them coverage at all. 

The resulting 63-minute documentary, Fire and Fury, is our most controversial piece of work to date — and our most-watched. With more than 1.39 million views, it significantly outperformed television current affairs viewership figures. And its evergreen nature means even months after publication, significant numbers of viewers are still watching.

Bracing for backlash

Fire and Fury also led to an unpleasant backlash. Our journalists received threatening responses and unprecedented levels of abuse that required us to elevate our security.

But outweighing that were unprecedented levels of audience engagement, positive feedback, and appreciation for the work. Many viewers expressed their thanks for giving them the means to have a difficult conversation with family members who had fallen for conspiracy theories.

On platforms where the protagonists garner the most support (mainly Telegram), we saw a significant decrease in their followers in the months after Fire and Fury. Anti-vaccination group Voices For Freedom shed thousands of followers between August and December 2022.

The New Zealand Media Council subsequently supported our unconventional editorial decisions in a landmark decision for journalists forced to navigate how to report dangerous speech, calling it a “rare case” where a response from the protagonists was not required.

About Paula Penfold

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