ANDREW SOPER AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 3097

Council Meeting: SEPTEMBER 2021

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Misleading

Overview

The New Zealand Herald published an article on August 5, 2021 headlinedCovid-19 coronavirus: X-ray shows difference vaccine can make to lung health.

The article reported a US doctor using x-rays to show “how ravaged lungs can get when they are unprotected from the virus.” He shared images of the lungs of a fully vaccinated person with Covid-19 and someone who had not received the vaccine.

Andrew Soper complained that the article was clearly wrong when it reported the doctor was seeing an influx of young patientsduring winter and that most of those were unvaccinated. When the error was brought to its attention theHerald corrected it to read the doctor was seeing more of an influx of younger patientsthan during winter.

Mr Soper also complained that it was not scientifically valid for the doctor to draw conclusions from two x-ray images without giving further information about the patients, their age and whether they were smokers or not. If a sample size of two was insufficient for Mr Soper’s lab, let alone an intermediate science fair project, why was it considered sufficient to publish it in the national news in New Zealand?.

Mr Soper’s argument might be valid if this article was in a medical journal where detailed information is required to make a case. But this was a news story, a report of what a doctor is doing to encourage people to get vaccinated. It is his opinion that vaccines protect health and save lives, and given that the efficacy of vaccines has been tested in trials and global vaccination campaigns, his view cannot be said to be without factual foundation.

To get his point across the doctor showed x-rays of two patients’ lungs. The fact that he has not given any details of his patients’ medical histories does not necessarily negate his opinion, (although it would have been preferable to have some basic information). It is similar to health educators showing x-rays or photos to demonstrate what happens to smokers’ lungs. The science underlying such public health messages is widely accepted and does not have to be spelt out in detail every time.

The Media Council does not accept that any journalistic principles have been breached.

There are insufficient grounds to proceed.

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