NZ CAT COALITION AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2905

Council Meeting: JUNE 2020

Verdict: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Unfair Coverage

Overview

CASE NO:2905 and 2906

RULING BY THE NEW ZEALAND MEDIA COUNCIL ON THE COMPLAINTS OF NZ CAT COALITION AND MARTIN BROADBENT AGAINST STUFF

FINDING: INSUFFICIENT GROUNDS TO PROCEED

DATE: JUNE 2020

On May 18, 2020 Stuff published an article Coronavirus: Cats emerging as potential vectors of virus. The article was a contributed piece from Dr Steven Trewick, a professor in evolutionary ecology at Massey University. It was a brief version of an article which provided evidence and research to support the contention that cats, roaming widely and moving between different family bubbles, could provide a mechanism for transfer of the virus. A link was provided to the longer blog post.

The NZ Cat Coalition contested Dr Trewick’s credentials to write this piece arguing this was not his area of expertise. Further they said the article provided no evidence to support the theory. They also considered that what they claimed was the accompanying photo of a cat with a bird in its mouth was irrelevant to the story and designed to lead readers to an anti-cat stance.

Martin Broadbent noted he had complained previously abut Stuff’s anti-cat stories that are not factual. He said they were putting people’s cats in danger from misinformation.He also complained about the photo, which he said was photo-shopped.

Replying to the NZ Cat Coalition Stuff noted that it was broadly agreed that coronavirus is a recently evolved virus.Dr Trewick is a professor of evolutionary biology and was qualified to analyse and discuss disease transmission, human and animal biology.

The link provided allowed readers to access the research that supported the article.

Stuff also noted the use of “potential” in the headline, that evidence was said to be accumulating.Also that advice was given on hygiene around cats.

The Media Council notes the article was written by a scientist with some expertise on the subject who had been asked to summarise for general public consumption his more detailed paper on the subject. His views were no doubt of considerable public interest during the global pandemic.

The Cat Coalition challenged the points he made by asking for “exact” proof, which is an almost impossible task on a fast-evolving area of scientific study into a new virus. Any reader wanting further information could use the link provided to access the scientific detail. There is no indication that the article was inaccurate or unfair.

Although it was one opinion other views were also sought. Later that day Stuff ran another articleCoronavirus: Don’t ditch your pets over Covid-19 fears, vets say with comment from the Veterinary Association and the SPCA’s scientific advisor.

The article as supplied by both complainants was illustrated by a graphic depicting a cat moving between two family bubbles. There was no photo of a cat with a bird in its mouth provided to the Media Council. The Media Council sets aside this aspect of the complaint.

There are no grounds to support the claim that the article breached any Media Council principle cited.

Finding: Insufficient grounds for these complaints to proceed.

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