DEREK JANSEN AGAINST NEWSTALK ZB

Case Number: 3355

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2022

Decision: Upheld

Publication: Newstalk ZB

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Children and Young People
Comment and Fact
Columns, Blogs, Opinion and Letters
Corrections

Ruling Categories: Data

Overview

1. Newstalk ZB published an item on August 29, 2022, headlined Kerre Woodham: When it comes to crime; numbers do not lie. The complaint, that the article was inaccurate, is upheld. Newstalk ZB was also found to have failed to promptly correct the article and give fair prominence to its correction.

The Article

2. The on-line commentary piece said, amongst other things, that youth offending was up and that “the stats are there – from the police, from Statistics New Zealand, they’re not made up, they’re not invented by a political party, they are real.”

The Complaint

3. Derek Jansen said there were no official statistics that show youth offending was up and the only statistics available indicate that youth crime may be down. 

4. He said he emailed Newstalk ZB asking for them to reference the statistics. They said they would get back but after a month they had gone silent. 

5. He lodged a complaint with the Media Council on October 1 complaining the article breached Principles (1) Accuracy, fairness and balance; (3) Children and young people; (4) Comment and fact; and (5) Columns, blogs, opinion and letters.

6. He said it was a serious problem when misinformation like this was propagated and now politicians were saying publicly that youth crime was up. It unfairly stigmatised a section of society and he was concerned that mistaken and counter-productive policy proposals might proceed under the pressure of misinformation that was either careless or pandering to prejudices against young people. 

The Response

7. NZME advised Mr Jansen on October 7 that the article had been amended to remove reference to youth offending.

8. “After reviewing your complaint we have updated the second sentence of the article as follows: The rate of serious crime is up, with a spike in ram raids which have increased more than 500 percent in five years”. 

9. “The following correction has also been inserted into the article: This article has been updated to revise a statement suggesting that there has been an increase in youth offending.”

10. NZME believed the action taken constituted a satisfactory and sufficient response to the concerns raised.

11. Referring to Principle (1) Accuracy, fairness and balance – he said NZME accepted that the articles as originally published contained an inaccuracy as it suggested that there had been an increase in youth offending.

12. However, there was no intention to mislead or misinform readers. While the correction was not as prompt as NZME would have wished, this was “due to the fact that, firstly, Mr Jansen did not initially submit a formal complaint in accordance with the requirements of the Media Council, but rather sought confirmation of the sources relied on. Consequently, Mr Jansen’s query was not initially treated as a formal complaint. Secondly the producer in question was unfortunately on leave when the query was first sent to them.”

13. “Having regard to the action taken to remedy the inaccuracy contained in the article as originally published, we do not consider there has been a breach of Principle 1.”

14. Principle (3) Children and young people did not apply. NZME said this was an opinion piece rather than a news report concerning particularly children or young people. It did not focus on offending by young people but was a general discussion about crime rates and the Government’s criminal justice policy.

15. NZME did not believe the article breached Principle (4) Comment and fact or Principle (5) Columns, blogs, opinion and letters. It was clearly presented as the writer’s opinion and labelled as such. The article also clearly distinguished between factual information and comment and the inaccuracy in the original article was corrected as soon as it was identified.

The Discussion

16. The Media Council shares Mr Jansen’s concerns about the dangers of spreading misinformation. It is also pleased to see that NZME has acknowledged the article was inaccurate as there was no factual basis at the date the article was published for saying youth offending was up. 

17. The Council notes that statistics, published some two months after this article ran, show that while there had been a recent rise in youth crime and a steep rise since 2021 in vehicle-based crime committee by those aged 10-14 years old,  the number of offences committed by children and teenagers is well down on numbers reported annually since 2014.

18. However, the council is concerned at Newstalk ZB’s handling of this matter. 

19. Mr Jansen’s query - about the source of information relied on - should have been considered an alert to the possibility that the facts were wrong. The excuse that the producer was away holds little water given that Newstalk ZB is a major media operator where the absence of one individual can be an excuse for failing to fix anything. 

20. It is also disingenuous to try to shift blame onto Mr Jansen for not laying a formal complaint earlier. All news media need to be alert to the possibility they have made mistakes and be ready to make corrections as swiftly as possible, rather than sit back and only respond when a formal complaint is lodged.

21. As the Council’s Principle (12) Corrections notes: A publication’s willingness to correct errors enhances its credibility and often, defuses complaint. Significant errors should be promptly corrected with fair prominence.

22. Newstalk ZB failed on several levels. It was slow to pick up its mistake and its response was little and late. The uncorrected article was on-line for over a month and the change, when it was finally made, was beyond the time when the article would have had any currency or prominence on its web-site. 

23. The statement at the top of the article, saying it had been revised, might have been acceptable and carried some weight if it had been prompt. But over a month later it did little to convey any sense that the publisher was acknowledging a mistake had been made.

24. The Media Council finds the original article to be in breach of Principle (4) Comment and Fact, which says material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate. Newstalk ZB also breached Principle (12) Corrections, because a significant error was not corrected promptly or with fair prominence. 

25. Mr Jansen’s complaint under Principles (1), (3) and (5) were not upheld as these principles were not applicable to this commentary piece.  

26. Decision: the complaint is upheld under Principles (4) and (12). The complaint is not upheld under Principles (1), (3) and (5).

Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Hank Schouten, Jonathan Mackenzie, Scott Inglis, Tim Watkin, Ben France-Hudson, Jo Cribb, Judi Jones, , Marie Shroff, Alison Thom and Richard Pamatatau.

 

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