VANESSA MACKAY AGAINST NEWSHUB

Case Number: 3214

Council Meeting: FEBRUARY 2022

Decision: Not Upheld

Ruling Categories: Balance, Lack Of
Bias
Discrimination
Offensive Language
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1) Vanessa Mackay complains about a Newshub ‘Have your say’ item published online on November 10, 2021.

2) She says the Media Council principles breached are Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, Conflicts of Interest, Discrimination and Diversity

3) The complaint is not upheld.

The Article

4) The item is headlined Have your say: Should Kiwis who wilfully refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 be denied free medical treatment?

5) It is not a story as such – it is presented at first glance as an interactive item, asking readers the above question.

6) It then segues into a story by including background from news items that outline the Singapore government’s decision to charge non-vaccinated residents for medical care, due to the strain they are placing on the country’s health system.

7) It includes background from a NZ news story, quoting University of Auckland epidemiologist Rod Jackson. Mr Jackson had previously warned that even if NZ reached a 90 per cent vaccination target, the remaining 10 per cent of “hold-outs” could overwhelm the hospital system.

8) The item also refers to a Tweet from NZ Initiative chief economist Dr Eric Crampton which shared news of Singapore's decision and noted that when demand for health services outstrips the ability to supply them, then "something has to ration".  The item also says “Dr Crampton wrote in detail on how New Zealand will soon need to decide on how to ration hospital services in Newsroom last month.”

9) The item concludes by asking the reader “What do you think?” Should people who choose not to get vaxxed bear the financial consequences of their actions if they get hospitalised?

10) Readers are directed to an online ‘straw poll’ to vote and view the results.

The Complaint

11) Ms Mackay complains about the “highly offensive article to the un-injected people of New Zealand”

12) …” as the article suggests material which would be in breach of human rights questioning whether to provide the un-injected citizens of New Zealand with free healthcare.”

13) Ms Mackay says Newshub did not respond to her complaint.

14) She says they are biased and one sided on this subject and known for their extreme political bias.

15) “The article itself is unbalanced and unfair. There is no opposing view coverage for this minority group. It then launches into a pole (sic) engaging the public, inciting discrimination.

16) “No author has been published. How is it possible to know if this is independent? Has there been receipt of funding from the Government's Public Interest Journalism Fund or the Google Initiative or similar?"

The Response

17) Broadcasting standards manager Dianne Martin responds by asking the Media Council to “extend our apologies to the complainant that she did not receive a reply from Discovery.”

18) Discovery owns Newshub, which uses the TV3 news platform as well as its own online platform.

19) Ms Martin says “Regrettably, her complaint did not make its way to the Three Standards Committee for consideration.  We have reminded the newsroom to forward all complaint correspondence to the Committee to ensure complainants receive appropriate responses.”

20) Ms Martin says no breach of the Media Council Principles has been identified and she recommends the complaint is not upheld

21) “Have Your Say” is a straw poll seeking reader engagement which is a regular feature of the Newshub website. 

22) “We maintain that regular readers of the website would be familiar with these polls. Given the stance taken in Singapore on unvaccinated patients' access to healthcare, the poll was a way of opening up the conversation with our readers to ask their opinion on whether it is something that New Zealand should consider.

23) “The article accompanying the poll was intended to provide the audience with the context for the poll question.

24) Ms Martin says there is no breach of balance or unfairness principles as the “management of Covid-19 by governments is currently a long-running, ongoing issue worldwide.”

25) A further response from Ms Mackay observes that media outlets have a duty to not incite prejudice or discrimination. Their role should be to accurately report facts and not create news / disharmony through provocative lines of questioning.

The Discussion

26) The item that Ms Mackay complains about is not a news story as such.

27) In this case, readers are asked for their opinion on whether - as is the case in Singapore - non-vaccinated New Zealanders should be denied free health care.

28) It is an interactive item that poses a question to readers, provides context and encourages readers to vote in a straw poll.

29) The poll results are provided live. The results themselves were conclusive– in this case only 13 per cent of people said “yes” with 86 per cent saying “no” and one per cent “unsure”.

30) The Media Council considers that given the pandemic is a long running issue, there are no breaches of the Accuracy, Fairness and Balance principles.

31) The question posed is inflammatory, but part of the long running duty of mainstream media is to raise questions, and encourage debate, that people may find uncomfortable or confronting. The results indicate that among those choosing to take part in this poll there is no appetite to follow the Singapore approach. The argument about inciting discrimination must therefore fail.

32) The Media Council can see no breach of the Discrimination and Diversity principle. There are also no arguments presented that could lead to an uphold of the Conflict of Interest principle

33) The complaint is not upheld.

34)However, the Media Council’s observation is that Newshub handled Ms Mackay’s complaint poorly. Ms Martin acknowledges that Ms Mackay did not receive a response from Discovery, which owns Newshub.

35) It is not clear from the complaint, whether Ms Mackay has ever received a response from Newshub/Discovery. Ms Martin asks the Media Council to pass on Discovery’s apologies for not replying to her.

36)  The Media Council suggests Newshub/Discovery contact Ms Mackay directly to express that apology.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Jo Cribb, Judi Jones, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Reina Vaai and Tim Watkin. 

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