Radio New Zealand to merge digital and news teams after editing scandal

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


Radio New Zealand says it accepts and will implement in full a set of recommendations on its newsroom methods after a scandal over edits to Reuters and other international agency stories that shifted context and added background — in some cases in line with Kremlin talking points.

In an earlier post I wrote about the case for the INMA Newsroom Initiative believing it has lessons for all newsrooms.

Perhaps most surprising is that RNZ says it will now combine its radio news operation with its digital newsroom, having kept them separate for years after most news organisations realised digital was a crucial part of the newsroom and not an add-on with different standards.

RNZ has launched changes in the wake of a report from independent advisers called in to investigate how and why dozens of online news stories were found to have edits that added context that was out of line with what had been in the original from Reuters or other services.

The public broadcaster, which just received a 60% increase (NZ$26 million US$16 million) in its budget from the government to expand online services just as the scandal broke, has audited the work of the single editor involved in the case who has since resigned. It also has reposted dozens of stories with the edits removed and explained.

Comments from the investigators within 22 recommendations included uniting the radio and digital news operations address, the motives of the editor involved, and public remarks by the RNZ Chief Executive Paul Thompson, who described some of the problematic content as “pro-Kremlin garbage.” The investigators said that “contributed to public alarm and reputational damage.”

In my view, having read many of the stories, he was and remains on the mark and tried to get ahead of what was an inevitable pile-on by rival media.

The investigatory panel also said it “accepts that the person responsible for the inappropriate editing genuinely believed he was acting appropriately to provide balance and accuracy, and was not motivated by any desire to introduce misinformation, disinformation or propaganda.”

That may surprise those who read some of the edits and called out the shift in tone.

RNZ said has said it will appoint a senior leader to oversee editorial standards.

Here are a couple of extracts from the investigation that may be relevant:

  • “While the inappropriate actions were those of an individual journalist, the wider structure, culture, systems, and processes that facilitated what occurred and responded to it are the responsibility of RNZ’s leadership.”

  • It found a “busy, poorly resourced digital news team” and a lack of “consistency and effectiveness” in editorial training in an unsatisfactory editorial structure.

  • “Outdated technology, organisational silos and a lack of trust between the digital news team and the traditional newsroom are all cited by staff as issues of concern and the panel agrees. These factors all potentially create information and/or trust gaps and reduce effective communication and oversight of editorial standards.”

The full report is here, and I suspect many organisations would recognise themselves in parts of it or be grateful that they have taken action to avoid similar pitfalls.

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About Peter Bale

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