BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Powell and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2021-127 (20 December 2021)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
Dated
Complainant
  • Kerry Powell
Number
2021-127
Programme
1 News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary  

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a 1 News report breached the accuracy standard by describing ivermectin as a drug for animals. The Authority found the accuracy standard was not breached as the statements were materially accurate and were not misleading.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


The broadcast

[1]  An item on 1 News on 15 September 2021 reported on COVID-19 misinformation trends. One of these was the use of ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. The segment was introduced as follows:

1 News can reveal the rise of misinformation has seen a rise in the attempted importation of ivermectin, a parasite treatment for animals falsely claimed to help treat COVID-19. One hundred and forty packages of the medication have been intercepted by Customs since January this year. Katie Bradford has details.

[2]  At another point in the segment, the reporter referred to the efficacy of ivermectin in treating COVID-19:

Katie Bradford:                MedSafe is also warning about the dangers of ivermectin. Of the 140 consignments stopped at the border since January, 51 were in August alone and 13 already this month. The sudden rise has Medsafe talking to Customs about how to tackle the issue at the border. Dr Ashley Bloomfield also rubbishing the drug: 

Dr Ashley Bloomfield:    …which hasn't been shown to be safe or effective for the treatment of COVID-19.

The complaint

[3]  Kerry Powell complained the 1 News report breached the accuracy standard as:

  • The programme misled the public about ivermectin as it is not just a drug for horses/animals and is ‘approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an antiparasitic agent’ and ‘has been approved for human consumption in most countries and is used all the time with very little side effects.’
  • ‘In 2015, William Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for its discovery and applications.’

[4]  The complainant indicated the complaint ‘was nothing to do with whether Ivermectin was good, bad or ugly as a Covid treatment, it was specifically what Simon Dallow smugly called it…a horse de-wormer’ but noted:

  • ‘There are thousands of qualified doctors worldwide that have used ivermectin for treating Covid.’
  • ‘If you go to the NHI (US Government medical site) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33278625/ it talks of a trial using this drug with good results’.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  TVNZ did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

  • Ivermectin is most commonly known in New Zealand as an animal medicine.
  • ‘It was not inaccurate or misleading to describe ivermectin as “a parasite treatment for animals”, particularly in the context of the official advice which was that it was not an appropriate treatment for Covid-19 in humans.’
  • The article cited by the complainant was a preliminary trial and its authors acknowledge that its efficacy and safety have not been established in respect of treating COVID-19.
  • During the broadcast, Dr Ashley Bloomfield states that the drug ’hasn’t been shown to be safe or effective for the treatment of Covid-19’, and this view is supported by reputable agencies in New Zealand and overseas.
  • The broadcaster also cited statements from Medsafe and Merck Sharp & Dohme (the manufacturer of ivermectin) which support this position.

The standard

[6]  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 that any news, current affairs or factual programme is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. Being ‘misled’ is defined as being given ‘a wrong idea or impression of the facts.’3 

Our analysis

[7]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[8]  Our task is to weigh the value of the programme, in terms of the right to freedom of expression and the public interest in it, against the level of actual or potential harm caused. The value of the programme is high given it concerns health information relating to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The public interest in health information means it is important to ensure accuracy. We must also consider the important role broadcasters play in keeping the public informed with regard to the pandemic.

[9]  The accuracy standard is concerned with material inaccuracies. Technical or other points that are unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.4

[10] The requirement for accuracy does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment, or opinion, rather than statements of fact.5 Programmes may be misleading by omission.6

[11]  The complainant argued the broadcast was misleading as it described ivermectin as a drug for animals, when it is also used in treatment of some human conditions.

[12]  We find the alleged inaccuracy was not likely to mislead viewers. The reporter called ivermectin ‘a parasite treatment for animals’. This was the only reference to the veterinary use of the drug in the broadcast. Ivermectin is a common veterinary medicine in New Zealand.7 News reports have discussed how retailers have seen an increase in demand for the animal version of the drug, which is being consumed by humans.8 As ivermectin is not approved as a prescription for the treatment of COVID-199 and imports of the human version are being stopped at the border (as discussed during this broadcast), it is not a material inaccuracy to describe ivermectin by reference to its common use in New Zealand.

[13]  In addition, the programme was focused on COVID-19 misinformation trends (including one concerning ivermectin). While we accept ivermectin is also used as an anti-parasitic medication for humans,10 the programme did not purport to be an in-depth analysis of ivermectin or to address other uses of the drug. The comment was accordingly unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the segment as a whole.11

[14]  Finally, we note the complainant’s comments regarding trials/use of the drug in connection with COVID-19. However, we do not consider the comment was rendered materially inaccurate by virtue of the existence of some limited COVID-19 related studies/uses of the drug.  The World Health Organisation12 and the manufacturer of ivermectin13 agree there is no evidence that ivermectin should be used to treat COVID-19. The relevant comment (and other statements in the broadcast) were consistent with this position.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Susie Staley
Chair
20 December 2021    

 

Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1  Kerry Powell’s formal complaint – 15 September 2021

2  TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 14 October 2021

3  Powell’s response to the decision – 15 October 2021

4  Powell’s referral to the Authority – 21 October 2021

5  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 9 November 2021


1 Standard 9 of the Free-To-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
3 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd, CIV-2011-485-1110 at [98]
4 Guideline 9b
5 Guideline 9a
6 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 19
7 Mirjam Guesgen “The truth about ivermectin” The Spinoff (online ed, 6 September 2021); Matamata Veterinary Services “Drenching” <www.matamatavets.co.nz>; Vet Marlborough “Horse Wormer – Not For Dogs” <www.vetmarlborough.co.nz>; Michael Neilson “Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Concerns over dramatic increase in ivermectin de-wormer imports, a disproven and 'dangerous' Covid treatment” New Zealand Herald (online ed, 2 September 2021).
8 Mitch McCann “Medsafe warns people against using 'horse medicine' to ward off COVID-19” Newshub (online ed, 5 September 2021); “Ivermectin sales surge as consumers chase unproven Covid “cure”” Horsetalk <www.horsetalk.co.nz>; Emma Goldberg “Demand Surges for Deworming Drug for Covid, Despite Scant Evidence It Works” New York Times (online ed, 28 September 2021); Erin Woo “How Covid Misinformation Created a Run on Animal Medicine” New York Times (online ed, 28 September 2021)
9 Medsafe (6 September 2021) “Ivermectin and COVID-19” <www.medsafe.govt.nz>; PHARMAC “COVID-19 Ivermectin” <https://pharmac.govt.nz>; Ministry of Health (8 April 2020) “Caution about Laboratory COVID-19 Report” <www.health.govt.nz>; Ministry of Health (15 February 2021) “Response to your request for official information (Ref: H202100482)” <www.health.govt.nz>.
10 Medsafe (6 September 2021) “Risks of importing or prescribing ivermectin for prevention or treatment of COVID-19” <www.medsafe.govt.nz>
11 See Morgenster and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2020-069 at [11]–[12] where we reached a similar conclusion regarding a segment briefly referencing the safety of 5G technology
12 World Health Organisation (24 September 2021) “Therapeutics and COVID-19: living guideline” <www.who.int> at [7.3]: ‘… there remains great uncertainty regarding the relevance of any immunomodulatory or anti-inflammatory action of ivermectin.’
13 Merck (4 February 2021) “Merck Statement on ivermectin use During the COVID-19 Pandemic” <www.merck.com>