Case Number: 3507

Council Meeting: April 2024

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Radio NZ

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Headlines and Captions

Ruling Categories: Misrepresentation
Unfair Coverage


  1. On 6 December RNZ published on-line the article Student hunger, bad teachers revealed in latest PISA tests showing dip in NZ teens' scores.  Francis Borok complains about the use of the word ‘bad’ to describe teachers. The complaint, under Media Council Principles (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance and (6) Headlines and Captions is not upheld. 

The Article

  1. The article presented the New Zealand results of PISA testing for 15 years olds showing that performance dropped in maths, science and reading.
  2. The article includes a subsection titled Bad Teachers that outlined that 25 percent of students who sat the PISA test where in schools where principals reported they had inadequate or poorly qualified teaching staff.  This was up from 16 percent in the previous round of testing in 2018. It also stated that nearly half were in schools that struggled to hire teachers and that students in these schools scored lower in mathematics than students in schools whose principal reported fewer or no shortages of teaching staff.

The Complaint

  1. Francis Borok complains about the use of the phrase ‘bad teachers’ in the headline.  He states that RNZ article and source material stated the issue with teachers was that there were not enough teachers, or not enough teachers qualified for the subjects they were teaching. Bad as defined as poor quality, Mr Borok argues, is not the same as insufficient or inadequately trained.
  2. As published, Borok states, the headline and sub-heading are misleading. He argues that it is likely to further damage the public's view of the competence of New Zealand teachers, which ironically is a  contributing factor to our lack of teachers.

The Response

  1. RNZ argues that the term "bad" in terms of its normal usage as defined in the Oxford dictionary is “poor quality” or “not good at something”. Therefore, to use an adjective that indicates poor quality or something below an acceptable standard or not good at something was quite a reasonable way to describe the factors identified.
  2.  They state if a teacher is poorly qualified or is inadequately qualified it is reasonable to describe that teacher as being “bad” in the sense of being of “poor quality”, “below and acceptable standard” or “not good at something”.
  3. RNZ rejected the complaint that the headline damages the public perception of teachers because the complaint provided no detail or proof of a causal link to suggest the headline had done either damage to the public’s view of teacher competence, or that the public’s view of teacher competence somehow is a contributing factor to a lack of teachers.

The Discussion

  1. The essence of this complaint is whether it was accurate and fair for RNZ to label teachers who are inadequate or poorly qualified as ‘bad’ in the headline and sub-heading of this article. 
  2. While it may not be the most flattering, and even sloppy description of the content of the article, ultimately it is not of a level of substance that the use of this word could be seen to be inaccurate or unfair so to warrant an uphold. 
  3. While ‘poorly qualified teachers and teacher vacancies’ would be more accurate, the Media Council acknowledges the need for brevity in headlines and sub-headings. Further, in common conversation it would not be unheard of or out-of-place for ‘bad’ to be used as shorthand for any professional not adequately trained or qualified.
  4. Principal (6) Headlines and Captions states that headlines and captions should accurately and fairly convey the substance of a key element of the report they are designed to cover.  One section of this report focused on the impact of poorly and inadequately trained teachers on student performance.  As such the headline does relate to the content of the article.
  5. Decision: the complaint is not upheld

Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Hank Schouten, Rosemary Barraclough, Katrina Bennett, Ben France-Hudson, Jo Cribb, Judi Jones, Marie Shroff, Alison Thom, Richard Pamatatau.

Council member Tim Watkin declared a conflict of interest and did not vote.



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