Claus and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2023-018 (16 May 2023)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- John Gillespie
- Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
- Aroha Beck
- Vincent Claus
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint an episode of The Panel, which discussed Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s recent resignation announcement, breached the accuracy standard. During the episode, the host spoke briefly with a caller who raised concerns about COVID-19 vaccine mandates, to which a panellist responded ‘97% of us got vaccinated’. While the Authority acknowledged this statement was inaccurate, it was unlikely to significantly affect listeners’ understanding of the segment which focused on Ardern’s resignation.
Not Upheld: Accuracy
 During an episode of The Panel, broadcast on 19 January 2023, host Wallace Chapman spoke with panellists (including Simon Wilson) and with various politicians, experts and political analysts about the resignation of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (which had been announced earlier that day). Throughout the episode, Chapman intermittently read out correspondence from listeners and spoke briefly with a few listeners about their views on Ardern’s resignation. Chapman noted most respondents were saddened to hear of Ardern’s resignation, and advised he was bringing on a caller to provide a different view. The interview with the caller contained the following dialogue:
Caller: My concern over the last few years has been the vaccine mandates that the Labour Government bestowed upon the citizens of this country. There was a lot of damage done at that time to people and people's lives, and families.
Chapman: Lives were saved. Lives were saved.
Wilson: 97% of us got vaccinated.
Caller: Excuse me, that damage stays today. Because after the mandates were dropped, in actual fact, employers now have the right to ask their employees and prospective employees -
Chapman: No, I asked about Jacinda Ardern. Not your view on vaccine mandates. So, who would you like to see in the next election?
Caller: That's why I was called to speak to you because of my text to you with regards to the silence on the damage that vaccine mandates has caused [to] hundreds of thousands.
Chapman: Okay. No, we've got to go [caller]. Kia ora, thanks for your time.
 Vincent Claus complained the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand as Wilson’s figure of a 97% vaccination rate was incorrect, and that according to the Ministry of Health | Manatū Hauora, only 90.2% of New Zealanders aged 12 and over received a primary course of COVID-19 vaccinations.
 The complainant also raised concerns around the types of items RNZ reports on, stating: ‘RNZ runs segments on boosters and vaccine advantages frequently but never runs any stories on vaccine injury and those who have been affected by the mandates in a very adverse way especially medically… RNZ must meet its balance obligations and also talk about vaccine injury in NZ and not just be one sided and give major pharmaceutical companies an easy ride and boot anyone with a different opinion off the airwaves.’
The broadcaster’s response
 RNZ did not uphold the complaint, advising that it is was unclear whether Wilson said 97% or 90.7% ‘of us had got vaccinated’, and that it was unclear whether he was speaking about a percentage of the total, or just the eligible, population. Regardless, it was ‘obvious that Mr Wilson [was] making a point about the great majority of New Zealanders opting to receive the vaccine’ and ‘since the discussion is about Jacinda Ardern’s resignation, the fine detail of what exact proportion of the population is vaccinated is immaterial. The suggestion that a great majority were vaccinated is not misleading.’
 The purpose of the accuracy standard1 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.2 It states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure news, current affairs or factual content is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. Where a material error of fact has occurred, broadcasters should correct it within a reasonable period after they have been put on notice.
 We have listened to the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh up the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.3
 On reviewing the audio, we accept the panellist said ‘97% of us got vaccinated’ and that this figure is inaccurate (the Ministry of Health states approximately 89% of the eligible population completed a primary course of the COVID-19 vaccinations).4
 However, the accuracy standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or other points unlikely to significantly affect listeners’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.5
 In this case, we do not find the inaccuracy material to the broadcast as a whole. The broadcast was focused on the resignation of then Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the political implications of her resignation, which the panellists and guests covered extensively over the 50‑minute episode. Whether 97% or 90% of the population opted to receive a primary course of COVID-19 vaccinations was not material to this topic, and would not have significantly affected listeners’ understanding of the episode as a whole.6
 This finding means the broadcaster has complied with the standard. However, we wish to briefly address the complainant’s broader concerns about the broadcaster running segments on ‘vaccine advantages’ and not stories on vaccine injuries or the impacts of the mandates. We consider these concerns are outside the Authority’s jurisdiction in the circumstances (not being concerns raised about a particular programme as required under section 6 of the Broadcasting Act).7 Furthermore, they are not capable of being resolved by a complaints procedure as they relate to a matter of broadcaster editorial discretion (the subject matter and selection of news stories) and the complainant’s preference regarding such selection.8
 To the extent the complainant was concerned with the caller being taken off air, in the context of a 50‑minute episode with the focus described at paragraph , it was a matter of editorial discretion for the broadcaster to manage the subject discussed by callers and interviewees, and determine which issues, if any, would be touched on, or not.9
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
16 May 2023
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Vincent Claus’s formal complaint to RNZ – 19 January 2023
2 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 28 February 2023
3 Claus’s referral to the Authority – 6 March 2023
4 RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 24 March 2023
1 Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
2 Commentary, Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 16
3 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
4 See Manatū Hauora | Ministry of Health “Covid-19: Vaccine Data” at “Covid-19 vaccinations summary” (accessed 4 April 2023) <health.govt.nz>
5 Guideline 6.2
6 Guideline 6.2
7 Broadcasting Act 1989, s 6
8 Broadcasting Act 1989, s 5(c)
9 See Grimwood and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-018 at  for a similar finding