MICHELLE LEVY AGAINST RNZ
Case Number: 2693
Council Meeting: JULY 2018
Publication: Radio NZ
Errors, Apology and Correction Sought
Headlines and Captions
1. Michelle Levy says an original version of a story reported by RNZ on May 30, 2018 breached the principles of Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, Headlines and Captions and Corrections.RNZ acknowledges that the original story fell short “of our own standards as set out in our editorial policies, and for that we apologise”.The focus of this decision, therefore, will be whether the correction was such that the Council should not uphold what amounts to an acknowledged breach of Principle 1.
2. Central to the story is a claim taken to the Waitangi Tribunal by the complainant.The Tribunal accepted the complaint for hearing.Essentially, the claim was brought because the complainant was concerned that training material for undergraduate and graduate psychology programmes in New Zealand lacked sufficient Māori-focused content.
3. First, Dr Levy complains the headline, “Psychology, “very cold, robotic’ for Māori” does not accurately and fairly convey the substance of the report.She also complains about the caption reading:
Waikato doctor says most psychologists in New Zealand are clueless about Māori values and that needs to change.Psychologist Michelle Levy says the profession is not training students in the needs of Māori, and Māori patients are missing out on the care and understanding they need.She’s now taking it up with the Waitangi Tribunal.
4. She points out that a no stage did she say “most psychologists in New Zealand are clueless about Māori values”, or use the words “Māori patients”.She says these are not simply misquotes, but they were words she never said at all.
5. Dr Levy goes on to complain about inaccuracies relating to comments by another story source, Kiri Tamihere-Waititi. Ms Tamihere-Waititi has not made any complaint about the information put forward.Having said that, RNZ does not challenge those inaccuracies
6. Dr Levy said she called the journalist concerned as soon as she saw the article, which was some hours after it had first been released by Radio New Zealand.She says on the days of 30 and 31 May she spoke three times with a John Boynton, and exchanged several emails.As a consequence, the caption of the web version was amended mid-afternoon on 30 May, but the audio version caption was not amended until mid-morning on 31 May.On the afternoon of 31 May, a statement was added to the audio at the beginning of the story, and on the web at the end of the story, stating the story had been edited to remove comments wrongly attributed to Dr Levy.
7. RNZ also changed the headline from “NZ Psychologists ‘very cold, robotic’ toward Maori” to “Psychology ‘very cold, robotic’ for Maori”.
8. The response from RNZ to Dr Levy’s formal complaint to them was from a support services manager, George Bignell.In that, he acknowledged the aspects of the story fell short of their own standards, as noted above.He stated, “specifically the attribution of comments to you in the original story were not in fact accurate, but rather they were an attempt to paraphrase parts of the journalist’s interview with you, and that is regretted.”
9. He goes on that the headline was altered to better reflect the content of the story.
10. He then continued:
RNZ then assessed your complaint against the Media Council principles which you nominated.While we appreciate your feeling that amendments were not made to the story as quickly as you would have liked, on review, we found that these changes were made reasonably quickly, something which is allowed for under the Principles, so this aspect of your complaint was not upheld.
11. He goes on to refer to the complaints relating to Ms Tamihere-Waititi, and noted the story was amended to indicate that her impressions were recorded when she was a student, not in her current role as a qualified psychologist.
12. He concludes by saying that RNZ acknowledged again that the story fell short of their standards, and that they have already apologised.It appears that this apology was not deemed necessary to be a public one.
13. Principle 12 reads:
A publication’s willingness to correct errors enhances its credibility and, often, defuses complaint. Significant errors should be promptly corrected with fair prominence. In some circumstances it will be appropriate to offer an apology and a right of reply to an affected person or persons.
14. The Council notes with concern what appears to be a trend that Principle 12 is being relied on by the media in cases of quite serious breaches our principles which, of course, reflect best journalistic practice. While Principle 12 has been used by the Council as a reason not to uphold a complaint where there is a full and prompt correction there is nothing in the wording to suggest such a course must follow. Mr Bignell’s response above seems to suggest if a correction is made reasonably quickly that excuses a breach. Whether or not the Council exercises it discretion under this principle will always depend on the circumstances of an individual case.
15. While it would be convenient to lay down specific and concrete time guidelines for the publication of corrections that would lead to a “not uphold” of a complaint, the Council is satisfied that that would be inappropriate.It must, of course, depend on the circumstances.Further, whether a correction is sufficient to avoid the Council upholding a complaint would again depend on all of the surrounding circumstances, including the seriousness of the complaint.
16. In this case RNZ acknowledges it fell short of its own standards.It is clear in this case the report attributed to the complainant words that she did not use.This is an egregious error by a journalist, and falls well short of best practice.
17. We do not think the correction in this case was sufficient.To give it fair prominence, it needed to appear at the beginning of the web story, as it did with the audio file.
18. Furthermore, the Council is satisfied that the correction did not go far enough.In a case where a journalist has wrongly attributed factual statements to a person, any correction must point out the actual passages that were wrongly attributed and make clear they were never said by the person being interviewed.This correction fails to do that.
19. The Council is also of the view in a case such as this, with an egregious error, even noting the apology to the complainant personally, the apology should be a public one accompanying the correction.
20. We are also not satisfied that RNZ acted promptly enough in correcting the errors in this case.Given the speed of the dissemination of information by way of the internet, online corrections need to be made very promptly indeed.There is nothing to suggest they could not have been made much more quickly in this particular case.
21. On its own acknowledgement, Principle 1, Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, and Principle 6, Headlines and Captions, have been breached.The corrections from RNZ do not go far enough, and were not proffered promptly enough.Accordingly, the complaint is upheld for breaches of Principles 1 and 6.
Media Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay and Tracy Watkins.
Tim Watkin took no part in the consideration of this complaint.