Markula and Mediaworks Radio Ltd - 2020-144 (31 March 2021)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Wictoria Markula
ProgrammeThe Ryan Bridges Show
BroadcasterMediaWorks Radio Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an interview between Magic Talk host Ryan Bridges and World Health Organisation Special Envoy Dr David Nabarro. The complainant argued the interview contained inaccurate information about Sweden’s approach to COVID-19 and mask wearing, and inaccurately suggested Dr Nabarro advocated New Zealand adopt Sweden’s approach. The Authority found the relevant statements were comment, analysis or opinion to which the accuracy standard does not apply. It also concluded they were not materially inaccurate or misleading in the context of the interview. The standards of good taste and decency, balance and fairness either did not apply or were not breached.
Not Upheld: Accuracy, Good Taste and Decency, Balance, Fairness
 During a segment of The Ryan Bridges Show on Magic Talk, 26 August 2020, host Ryan Bridges interviewed World Health Organisation Special Envoy Dr David Nabarro about New Zealand’s approach to COVID-19, with reference to Sweden’s approach and to the long-term trajectory:
Mr Bridges: Can I start actually with your assessment of New Zealand's response to COVID-19? Because it's a bit of an outlier in the world, much like Sweden. We're going our own way. What do you think of it?
Dr Nabarro: Well, first of all, I've been absolutely impressed by the way in which the people and government of New Zealand have approached COVID-19. I want to really give praise because you were strong from the start in your response…
Mr Bridges: Okay. Thank you very much for the high praise… But also we are questioning now…we are aiming for this elimination strategy where we will beat it down when we see it and we're using the very blunt instrument of lockdowns to do that… Is that sustainable…? …Is what Sweden has done with social distancing and the use of masks and people being responsible for their own health without these draconian lockdowns…is that not the approach that we will eventually move towards?
Dr Nabarro: I think that there is still quite a lot to be worked out from aspects of the Swedish response. They did, as you know…have some serious problems in the elderly care sector. But let's not so much analyse the past. It's really the trajectory ahead. And I think for all countries, the real approach that we've got to aim for is that the public is able to reduce the spread of this virus through behaviour, behaviour that's adopted everywhere… And in that regard, I think comparison with Sweden and with other countries that are now able to get going again without major lockdowns, that's the right comparison and that's the goal for the future.
Mr Bridges: Right. So that is where New Zealand is heading, Sweden?
Dr Nabarro: Yes. Well, I don't want to say, you know, I don't like comparing countries and saying this country is better than that country…The key thing about their approach was that the government was able to trust the public… You've got to have trust on all sides if this is going to work, because in the end, it's through us being responsible not only for ourselves, but for each other that's going to get us on top of this.
Mr Bridges: Yeah…I think it's important I just clarify that…I've got no interest in comparing death tallies between countries. But what I'm saying is that it's your view that the approach that New Zealand is currently taking with the…more draconian lockdowns, eventually we should be heading towards an approach that Sweden is taking where everyone takes responsibility for social distancing and masks etc, but that you operate without lockdowns.
Dr Nabarro: That's the hope, and I want to say it will be necessary from time to time when you're nervous about what's happening, you don't know where the cases are coming from to do a little bit of local movement restriction in order to help you to get in and work out what's happening… And it's a key part of the strategy, but it's absolutely not long periods… That's what I hope we'll be able to avoid. And I believe you will be able to avoid it.
Mr Bridges: Dr Nabarro, thank you very much for your time… He says that New Zealand's approach thus far has been exemplary and something the world should look up to… Interesting, though, isn't it? He says New Zealand's approach should now aim to be more like Sweden's… The Swedish, and the way that they are not locking their country down while maintaining social distancing and wearing masks and all of those other measures is in the long run…the way to go.
 Ms Markula complained the broadcast breached the standards of good taste and decency, balance, accuracy and fairness. She argued the broadcast contained inaccurate information about Sweden’s approach to COVID-19 and mask wearing, and inaccurately suggested Dr Nabarro advocated New Zealand’s adoption of Sweden’s approach:
- ‘Swedes do NOT wear masks as Sweden’s government does not recommend masks…they discourage the use of them. 6% [wear] them against the government’s recommendation. Ryan says several times Swedes wear masks as a measurement.’
- ‘Dr Nabarro did not say NZ’s approach should now aim to be more like Sweden’s and it is the way to go.’
- ‘It is extremely important to be well researched in the current pandemic times and not miscommunicate [measurements] that a country is not using. Like Mike Hosking’s inaccurate statement the other month, I consider this to be just as misrepresentative and can lead to harm.’
- ‘The fact Swedish media is still writing new articles [incorrectly] about…WHO lauding Sweden’s strategy and referring to the live Magic Talk interview is damaging.’
 Ms Markula also complained about the headline advertising the interview online, which states ‘Should we compare ourselves to other countries like Sweden? WHO special envoy Dr David Nabarro discusses this with Ryan’.1 Ms Markula referred to a public statement released by Dr Nabarro after the interview,2 in which he objected to this headline and an earlier one, which stated ‘NZ should move to similar approach to COVID as Sweden – WHO special envoy Dr Nabarro suggests’, as misleading. Dr Nabarro’s statement clarified, ‘as stated in the full interview, I encourage all nations to adopt comprehensive prevention and containment strategies’ and ‘I make a point of not making specific comparisons between national responses’. Dr Nabarro reiterated this position in an email addressed directly to the Authority.
The broadcaster’s response
 MediaWorks did not uphold Ms Markula’s complaint for the following reasons:
- Good taste and decency: The broadcast would not have caused widespread undue offence or distress.
- Balance: Dr Nabarro was given sufficient opportunity to present his perspective throughout the interview and the issue under discussion has been widely covered by most media outlets within the period of interest, which is still ongoing, thus ensuring the audience can access significant points of view to reach an informed opinion on the matter.
- Accuracy: The host’s comments were clearly distinguishable as his opinion, to which the accuracy standard does not apply.
- Fairness: Dr Nabarro would expect to be robustly interviewed by media. He was aware of the planned topics for discussion prior to the interview, and while at times the host pushed on particular points, Dr Nabarro had no difficulty in expressing his response.
 The accuracy standard states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact and does not mislead.3 Its purpose is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.4
 Ms Markula’s complaint has been determined under the accuracy standard, as this is most relevant to her concerns; however, the remaining standards are briefly considered at paragraph .
 We have listened to the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 We have no jurisdiction in respect of published headlines; our role is to assess the original broadcast against broadcasting standards. Nonetheless, we acknowledge the potential harm caused by headlines that misrepresent expert opinion on matters of public health and safety, and urge broadcasters to exercise caution in this regard.
 We have considered the important right to freedom of expression, which is our starting point. This includes the broadcaster’s right to offer a range of content and information and the audience’s right to receive it. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that justifies placing a limit on the right to freedom of expression. For the reasons below, we have not found such harm in this case.
 The audience may be misinformed in two ways: by incorrect statements of fact within the programme; and/or by being misled by the programme. This standard does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact.5 Where statements of fact are at issue, the standard is concerned only with material inaccuracy. Technical or unimportant points unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole are not material.6
 Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts’.7 Programmes may be misleading by omission, or as a result of the way dialogue and images have been edited together.8
 Ms Markula’s complaint appears to focus on Mr Bridges’ statements suggesting:
- the Swedish government was implementing mask wearing
- Swedish people were wearing masks
- Mr Nabarro was advocating New Zealand adopt Sweden’s approach.
 We consider Mr Bridges’ statements are distinguishable as comment, analysis or opinion, particularly in the context of the interview, and of talkback radio, which is not usually subject to this standard.9
 In any case, the statements were not materially inaccurate or misleading in the context of the interview:
- The statements about mask wearing in Sweden were immaterial in the context of a discussion about New Zealand’s approach to COVID-19 and the long-term trajectory. The focus of the discussion was not whether Sweden had implemented mask wearing but whether lockdowns were sustainable for extended periods, and whether self-regulation is preferable. Therefore, these statements were unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme as a whole.
- Mr Bridges asked Dr Nabarro on three occasions whether New Zealand should adopt Sweden’s approach to COVID-19. Dr Nabarro gave clear responses to these questions, including noting:
- He was not interested in comparing countries or analysing the past.
- The key aspect of the Swedish approach was mutual trust and self-responsibility.
- Movement restriction should be a key part of a country’s strategy, and will be necessary from time to time.
- Mr Bridges appeared not to listen to Dr Nabarro, as reflected by the nature and repetition of his statements. However, in the context of the interview, these statements were unlikely to mislead the audience.
 We note Dr Nabarro’s public statement took issue only with the headlines (which, as stated at paragraph , are not subject to our jurisdiction and therefore not considered in this decision). We also note Dr Nabarro’s statement referred to his correct position ‘as stated in the full interview’.10
 For the above reasons, we do not uphold the complaint under the accuracy standard.
 The other standards raised by the complainant either did not apply or were not breached:
- Good taste and decency: This is usually considered in relation to offensive language, sexual material, nudity and violence, and protects audience members from broadcasts likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress. This broadcast was unlikely to cause such offence or distress.
- Balance: This ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion. Dr Nabarro was given ample opportunity to present and clarify his views, and did so. A wide range of information on the topic, including in other media, was also available to the audience to enable them to reach an informed and reasoned opinion.
- Fairness: This protects the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes. Dr Nabarro was dealt with fairly and listeners would not have been left with a negative impression of him.
 Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under these standards.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
31 March 2021
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Wictoria Markula’s original complaint and correspondence with the broadcaster – 3, 7, 21 September 2020
2 MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 15 October 2020
3 Ms Markula’s referral to the Authority – 20 October 2020
4 Dr David Nabarro’s email to the Authority – 28 October 2020
5 MediaWorks’ response to the referral – 17 November 2020
6 Ms Markula’s further comments – 29 October, 29 – 30 November 2020
1 Magic Talk (26 August 2020) “Should we compare ourselves to other countries like Sweden? WHO special envoy Dr David Nabarro discusses this with Ryan” <www.magic.co.nz>
2 Dr David Nabarro “Comparing the New Zealand response to COVID-19 with Sweden: setting the record straight” 4SD (online ed, United Kingdom, 1 September 2020)
3 Standard 9 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
5 Guideline 9a
6 Guideline 9b
7 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
8 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
9 Guideline 9d
10 Dr David Nabarro “Comparing the New Zealand response to COVID-19 with Sweden: setting the record straight” 4SD (online ed, United Kingdom, 1 September 2020)