SAM ANDERSON AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 3242

Council Meeting: March 2022

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Headlines and Captions

Overview

Stuff ran an article on March 11, 2022, headlined Baby with Covid-19 in intensive care at Taranaki Base Hospital. The news about the baby was the lead on a wider story updating the number of new cases in Taranaki, modelling of the Omicron peak, nationwide figures and further information on vaccinations and where Taranaki people could get them.

Sam Anderson complained that the article breached Media Council Principle 1 (Accuracy, fairness and balance) and Principle 6 (Headlines).

He said that while the headline and first sentence were likely to be factually correct, they were highly misleading as there was no supporting information.

The only information given about this case was a single line saying, “The child is in a stable condition but receiving the extra care they require.”

He said what followed was essential an advertisement promoting vaccination “fuelled by the fear created by the sensationalist and potentially misleading headline.”

“There are so many questions that should have been asked and so much information that should have been presented that would give a full and accurate picture of the situation.”

Mr Anderson said these included the age of the baby, why it was admitted, its symptoms, whether it had underlying health concerns, whether doctors were concerned for the baby’s health, what treatments it was getting, was the mother also admitted, how many babies had been admitted for Covid around New Zealand, what percentage developed serious illness and what percentage, if any, died?

He cited Principle 1 which states publications should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers by commission or omission.

The Media Council considered the fact that a baby was in intensive care with Covid-19 was a matter of public interest, legitimately reported. Further information would have been of interest if it had been available, but the complainant provides no evidence that Stuff deliberately misled or misinformed people by omission.

Information about the baby’s admission was released by the District Health Board and it is not clear that any more detail was available or could have been obtained by Stuff before this story was published.

The Health Board’s caution about releasing information was understandable. Aside from patient confidentiality issues, a baby’s life was in the balance and its whanau would have already been under stress without the added pressure of publicity.

Even if Stuff knew the family involved, ethical considerations had to be considered. The Media Council’s Privacy Principle requires publications to have special consideration for those suffering from trauma or grief. Stuff would have legitimately been open to complaint if it had demanded answers to all the questions Mr Anderson wanted to have answered on that day. 

There was plainly no breach of Principle 1. Nor does it agree with Mr Anderson’s comment that the rest of the article was an advertisement promoting vaccinations. The story had news of significant interest to its readers including the rapidly rising number of new Omicron cases.

No evidence has been provided to show how any Media Council principles have been breached.

There were insufficient grounds to proceed.

 

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