Stuff editorial director Mark Stevens is confident that he can act on tip-offs about sex pests without ruining the reputations of innocent people.

The media group's #metoonz campaign by former RadioLive host and Fair Go reporter Alison Mau is linked to a global movement to advance women's causes.

The association between a news organisation and the campaign coincides with a media shift towards promoting discussion – with more focus on "clickable" content and sparking social media interest.

In that sense, media are bound to work alongside social movements.


Another news organisation, Newsroom, has investigated alleged inappropriate behaviour at law firm Russell McVeagh.

So far, Newsroom has withheld the identities of the alleged wrongdoers. There will be legal reasons for that, but sexual allegations also have potential to damage reputations — whether those named are guilty or not.

People can take legal action against media if they believe they have been defamed. But challenging well-resourced corporations can be costly.

Now, Stuff has embarked on the campaign led by the high-profile Mau, where Stuff investigates tip-offs alleging harassment and abuse.

I asked Stevens about the potential repercussions of falsely accusing an alleged abuser.

"This is not a witch hunt," he told me. "It is a robust journalistic investigation, with reporting and checks and balances.

"There is a massive gulf between getting a tip and publishing a story. We will not be publishing baseless or unsubstantiated stories," says Stevens.

"It is nonsense to suggest police are the only organisation to investigate; this is what journalists do."


While the campaign is led by Mau, it is overseen by investigative reporter Paula Penfold and includes reporter Michelle Duff in the core team.

Duff was one of two Stuff writers who attacked Sky TV for wanting to include broadcaster Tony Veitch on a sports panel show.

In a strongly worded article on November 23, Duff argued that because Veitch had assaulted his partner, he should not be allowed to appear on the Sky TV show.

But should a journalist be gatekeeper for appearances on TV a decade later?

I asked if there had been a change to Stuff's editorial strategy recently, in the run-up to the #metoonz campaign. Stevens said no.

"Without a doubt, the Me Too movement has been a defining international issue and it's important that NZ has a voice," he said.

Human rights

Four weeks ago, the Sunday Star-Times published an investigation into the Human Rights Commission's handling of allegations against one of its senior executives. The story led to intervention from Justice Minister Andrew Little and a review of the HRC.

The same day, the SST's handling of a story about National MP Chris Bishop, and his careless use of social media, got a less enthusiastic response and was derided by his supporters as a smear.

Justice for whom?

Tim Dare is professor of philosophy at Auckland University. "I worry a bit about their motivation covering it [issues raised by the Me Too campaign] ... a lot is mostly driven by searching for newsworthiness and less concerned with victims or perpetrators," he says.

Media had become less concerned with news and more about being a forum for discussion — and the main interest was in selling newspapers and getting clicks.

Most abuse claims would not meet the requirement for the alleged perpetrators to get natural justice. But if you insist that such accusations meet legal tests for natural justice, says Dare, you are saying that the complainant should continue to do nothing.

"Women are victims — now it looks as though there will be victims of Me Too. We are replacing one set of victims for another and maybe there is not much to be done about that."