JEREMY WELLS AGAINST RNZ

Case Number: 3169

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2021

Decision: Not Upheld

Publication: Radio NZ

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Comment and Fact
Unfair Coverage

Overview

On 14 October, RNZ published the on-line article IT expert says My Covid Record app at risk of security breaches.  The article begins with stating the head of the Ministry of Health’s (MoH) national digital services is in no doubt that the app in question is secure, despite an IT expert raising questions about it.

The article then outlines the view of Daniel Ayers, the IT security expert, who says the software used in the app (jQuery) is known to have security flaws and people’s information could be at risk.  Ayers bases his views on testing the app on various security sites.  He is concerned that the app made it through the development process without its use of outdated software being red flagged. Ayers goes on to say that while the flaws are not “catastrophic”, he would expect more from a government website.

The Ministry of Health group manager, Michael Dreyer then responds assuring that the app is secure, the software had been ‘’crawled over” by several security firms and any issues that Ayers raises are “low risk.” Dreyer then gives more technical information about the testing undertaken, ongoing checking and what would happen should there be a security breach.

The Complaint

Jeremy Wells complains about the quality of the information provided by Ayers, the IT security expert. Mr Wells states that RNZ should have better researched the information provided. 

Mr Wells states that the software in question (jQuery) is well used and well tested.  He goes further to state that all software will have security concerns and the weak points of jQuery are valid for functionality that the Ministry of Health is not likely to use. 

He concludes that the article gives the impression that the website developers did not know what they were doing, and this is incorrect.  He declared that he works in the IT industry but is not associated with the website development or with jQuery. 

The Response

RNZ responds by stating that Ayers’ background indicated that he is well positioned to speak as an “IT expert” and is used by several media outlets as a spokesperson and the Minister of Health’s Group manager, Dreyer, was interviewed as well.

RNZ acknowledges the concerns raised about Ayers’ analysis and as a result attributed all skeptical comments to Ayers personally and gave prominence to the Ministry of Health’s response.

RNZ’s concludes that it sees its role as providing a range of views as new issues are raised not to make a ‘’black and white declaration of truth”. 

The Discussion

This complaint concerns two Media Council principles: Principle 1: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, and Principle 4: Comment and Fact.

Under Principle 1, Wells complains that the RNZ article provides an inaccurate view of the Ministry of Health’s app and that Ayers’ comments are not balanced.  Accuracy and balance are high tests in Principle 1: that publications should be bound at all times by accuracy, fairness and balance and should not mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission.

The Media Council concludes that RNZ did not seek to mislead readers but rather provided quotes from someone they consider an expert and well placed to comment.  They did give due prominence to the Ministry of Health both in the starting sentence and in the last sections of the report.  There are no grounds for upholding on Principle 1. 

However, the Media Council notes that the robustness of security of the My Covid Record app will be of much interest to readers and the article could have been greatly improved by relying less on the views of a single source. This is particularly so given the mainstream media's increasingly important role of presenting information with integrity, to counter the misinformation that is rife on social media.

For Principle 4: Comment and Fact, there is an expectation that publications draw a clear distinction between factual information and comment or opinion, and that material facts on which an opinion is based should be accurate.  The Media Council notes that much of the commentary from Ayers is clearly attributed to him, either as direct quotations or in sentence form.  The reader will be very clear that these are his comments or opinions.  The Media Council can see no breach of this Principle in this case.

The complaint is not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Sandy Gill, Jonathan MacKenzie, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff and Tim Watkin.

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