The Media Council has upheld complaints against community news site The Indian News for offensive reporting about a Massey University academic and his research on Hindu nationalist ideology.
In a ruling released to complainants last Friday, the Council said an article by the Auckland-based publication had breached its ethical standards, expressed opinion under the guise of news and crossed the line into abusive personal attack.
"It is unsustainable to describe it as news," the decision read.
The Indian News had published a named photo of Massey University Professor Mohan Dutta in a news article on September 16, suggesting he was part of a "gang of some smelly rats" bringing an "anti-Hindu tirade" to New Zealand.
The article breached standards of accuracy, fairness and balance, public faith, and included offensive descriptions of Dutta, according to the Council.
"In the Council's view it is clearly an expression of the writer's opinions rather than reporting of facts and is an attack on Professor Dutta (and others of like mind)."
The point of contention was Dutta's research brief on Hindu nationalist ideology or Hindutva published in May, which has seen the academic receive hundreds of abusive online messages by supporters of the political movement.
"Comment should not cross the line into personal abuse, nor should it undermine trust in a publication's ability to distinguish fact from opinion, or robust debate from abusive personal attack. In this case the Council believes The Indian News has crossed that line," the ruling read.
Four out of seven relevant NZ Media Council principles were breached, including failing to correct errors, apologise and offer a right of reply; and take care in photograph selection and treatment.
The Indian News did not respond to the Herald's request for comment by deadline. Its website describes the publication as "New Zealand's most trusted Indian media group" and "serving the Indian and multicultural communities of New Zealand".
The Herald is also seeking comment from the Hindu Council and Hindu Youth. Both had issued statements the same month and in line with the Indian News article claiming Dutta's research was "anti-Hindu".
The two complainants, Dutta and the Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians (AAPI), said the decision was reassuring and showed that misinformation and hateful content are not tolerated here.
Dutta, who is Hindu, had received threatening and sometimes violent social media messages from Hindutva supporters in the months after his research paper was published. The trolls were mainly from overseas, according to police.
The Indian News article was more worrying because it was local, he said. "This news story had increased our security concerns as a family."
The Council on Wednesday ordered Dutta's name to be removed from the online article.
"That gives me some sense of safety, knowing that this propaganda - going unchecked in India and targeting academics - cannot be replicated in Aotearoa, at least not on media platforms that claim legitimacy," he told the Herald.
Both Dutta and AAPI spokesman Dr Joseph Thomas say they have serious concerns about the Hindutva agenda in diaspora Indian media in Aotearoa, and call for closer scrutiny.
"It is even more concerning when these media spreading misinformation are supported by mainstream political parties or are funded by the government," Thomas said.
The Council did not uphold a separate complaint against the Herald for its first report about Dutta coming under fire from Hindutva trolls published in early September.