The head of Radio New Zealand has apologised for publishing what he called “pro-Kremlin garbage”.
A journalist has been placed on leave after it was discovered several online stories about the war in Ukraine had been altered in favour of Russia.
Chief executive Paul Thompson said about 250 stories had already been forensically reviewed since staff were alerted on Friday.
Sixteen stories have been edited and thousands more are to be scrutinised.
“It is so disappointing. I’m gutted. It’s painful. It’s shocking,” he told RNZ’s Nine to Noon programme. “We have to get to the bottom of how it happened.”
Mr Thompson announced there would be an external review of the organisation’s editing processes.
The journalist in question claims to have been editing news agency copy published on the RNZ website for years.
RNZ – which is publicly funded – said the 16 articles in question had been republished with corrections, either with the inclusion of more voices or the removal of descriptions with pro-Russia slants. These include:
- Multiple references to the 2014 protests in Ukraine’s Maidan square as a “coup”. Those student-led rallies in the capital Kyiv were originally meant to pressure the country’s then pro-Vladimir Putin leader, Viktor Yanukovych, to sign an association deal with the EU. The rallies grew larger, leading to Mr Yanukovych being ousted;
- Multiple references to supposed “neo-Nazi military groups” that are fighting against Russia. At the start of Moscow’s invasion, Mr Putin said one of his aims was to “denazify” Ukraine.
- A piece that said Russia annexed Crimea only after a referendum – but Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s southern peninsula is not recognised by Ukraine and the wider international community;
- A story saying the current New Zealand administration pushed the country into providing non-combat support for Ukraine and its allies, which includes military training and humanitarian aid.
Mr Thompson has apologised to listeners, readers, staff and the Ukrainian community.
“It’s so disappointing that this pro-Kremlin garbage has ended up in our stories,” Mr Thompson told Nine to Noon. “It’s inexcusable.”
Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark tweeted that she expected better from the public broadcaster.
“Extraordinary that there is so little editorial oversight at Radio New Zealand that someone employed by/contracted to them was able to rewrite online content to reflect pro-Russia stance without senior staff noticing,” she wrote.