COLIN BRIGHT AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD

Case Number: 3017

Council Meeting: APRIL 2021

Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: New Zealand Herald

Ruling Categories: Accuracy

Overview

Colin Bright complained about the NZ Herald’s coverage of the effectiveness of the various Covid-19 vaccines. A story published in early February said: “Companies which make the vaccines say they are between 90 to 95 per cent effective.” This statement had been repeated several times, including in an article on 8 March 2021, Mr Bright said. “It conveys a deceptive and misleading impression toHerald readers.” The impression given was that all the vaccines purchased by the Government were “pretty well the same” but that was not true.

The NZ Herald replied, saying they had reported the various vaccine options and the results of trials extensively and had republished many articles from reputable overseas sources. Examples cited included a story about an AstraZeneca vaccine trial that showed up to 90 per cent effectiveness, a later story that exposed concerns that the AstraZeneca vaccine only offered minimal protection from the South African Covid-19 variant, and a report that suggested the J&J vaccine offered 85 per cent protection against the most severe illness after just one dose.

The Media Council notes that the subject of vaccine effectiveness is a long-running and important issue. As vaccines have been rolled out and further studies reported the evidence has been evolving, as theNZ Herald has reported. As the story has developed, figures have been seen as far from definitive.

The sentence Mr Bright complained about is: “Companies which make the vaccines say they are between 90 to 95 per cent effective.” This is presented as the position of the companies, and is obviously a simplified and broad-brush statement. It doesn’t go into detail about what “effective” means – whether it refers to not being infected, not passing the disease on or not becoming seriously ill – all matters which are addressed in other stories in many different media outlets about what is a complex and long-running issue.

Therefore the Media Council believes the use of the sentence Mr Bright refers to was acceptable in the context of the huge amount of in-depth coverage of the issue in theNZ Herald and other news outlets.

Finding: Insufficient Grounds to Proceed.

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