PAT SZETEY AGAINST RNZ

Case Number: 3346

Council Meeting: NOVEMBER 2022

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Comment and Fact
Subterfuge
Corrections

Ruling Categories: Data

Overview

  1. This complaint relates to the removal of charts from a long-running graphic presentation on the Radio New Zealand webpage headed Who’s catching Covid-19.
  2. The graphic was designed to illustrate Ministry of Health statistics relating to the Covid-19 pandemic including case numbers, hospitalisations, deaths and vaccination statistics.
  3. On July 13, 2022 Patrick Szetey asked RNZ why it had removed five charts relating to the vaccination status of new cases, hospitalisations and deaths; who had ordered the removal; when they might be reinstated; where else people might find this data; why the change had not been explained on the webpage, and “when we can expect RNZ to publish articles on the fact that the boosted population are over-represented in cases, hospitalisation and death statistics.”
  4.  RNZ complaints coordinator George Bignell said changes in the way the Ministry of Health reported data to the public had affected some of these charts and they had to be removed temporarily. Among other things the charts provide a rolling seven-day average of admissions to hospital, and this would take a week or two to be reinstated. Other charts suffered breaks in the dynamic links used to update them from the data provided by the ministry. These breaks were being repaired and the charts would be reinstated if possible.
  5. Mr Szetey complained he had not received a response to follow-up emails requesting further information. In his opinion this brought up questions of journalistic integrity and whether readers were being deceived.
  6. Mr Bignell advised the Media Council that RNZ was not able to respond to the high volume of complaints received about this page, and it was unable to respond to queries about Ministry of Health generated data or speak on the Ministry’s behalf.
  7. He added that Mr Szetey’s queries were not couched in terms of a possible breach of the Media Council’s principles.
  8. Mr Bignell said the data were official statistics which had been used in good faith and in the public interest. Charts were added and removed over time as information became available or more or less topical. As for the charts mentioned by Mr Szetey, these were removed when the ministry changed the way it presented and counted data. They were not reinstated due to continuing issues with the data.
  9. The Media Council notes that complainant was advised why certain charts were removed and was frustrated that RNZ did not answer his follow-up questions. Some additional information was provided after RNZ was asked by the Media Council to provide a response to the complaint.
  10. However, the Council does not believe any case has been made to show how RNZ breached the Media Council principles cited – (1) Accuracy, fairness and balance; (4) Comment and fact; (9) Subterfuge, and (12) Corrections.

Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.


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