MARK WONG AGAINST NEW ZEALAND HERALD
Case Number: 3230
Council Meeting: MARCH 2022
Decision: No Grounds to Proceed
Publication: New Zealand Herald
Principle: Headlines and Captions
Headlines and Captions
CASE NO: 3230
RULING BY THE NEW ZEALAND MEDIA COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINT OF MARK WONG AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD
FINDING: INSUFFICIENT GROUNDS TO PROCEED
DATE: MARCH 2022
The New Zealand Herald ran a teaser/headline on its Facebook page on 6 March 2022 saying Despite accounting for just around two in 10 of all Kiwis, the unvaccinated are responsible for 45 per cent of all new Omicron infections.
Mark Wong complained the headline was false as it omitted stating that it was based on modelling. The words “are responsible for” were a statement alleging fact.
The headline was a partial quote of a sentence in the article which read, “His model indicated that per capita, despite accounting for just around two in 10 of all Kiwis, the unvaccinated were responsible for 45 per cent of all new Omicron infections, compared with 39 per cent for those with two doses, and 15 per cent for boosted people.”
Mr Wong referred to an article published in the Herald in 2016 reporting that 60 percent of people just read headlines before sharing information. So, by the Herald’s own admission this headline would have 60 per cent of people believing a statement that was false.
The New Zealand Herald responded saying the Facebook post correctly quoted the article. The article reported on analysis developed by postdoctoral researcher Dr Leighton Watson. The article links prominently to the published analysis allowing readers to study the methodology and data relied upon in full.
The Media Council notes that this complaint is only about the Facebook teaser headline published on 6 March and not the content of the article that followed.
The Council can see the argument that putting the word “model” in the headline would have made it clear what the statement was based on. But the headline used by the Herald was not intrinsically incorrect. It reflected a key point in the article and it was apparent from the first line “A researcher’s modelling exercise has underscored …”what the headline was based on.
Media Council Principle 6 (headlines and captions) states: “Headlines, sub-headings and captions should accurately and fairly convey the substance or a key element of the report they are designed to cover.” This headline did reflect a key element of the report, and there was no infringement of that Principle.
There were insufficient grounds to proceed.