BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Redshaw and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2022-045 (21 June 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
Dated
Complainant
  • Wayne Redshaw
Number
2022-045
Programme
The Project
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a broadcast of The Project breached the accuracy standard. It stated Joe Rogan had taken ‘horse wormer ivermectin as a COVID treatment’. The Authority found the accuracy standard was not breached as the statements were materially accurate and not misleading.

Not Upheld: Accuracy


The broadcast

[1]  A broadcast of The Project, on 31 January 2022, reported on Joe Rogan’s recent controversies, including his use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19. During the segment, while images of Rogan’s podcast and boxes of horse, cattle and pig ivermectin medication were shown on screen, a voiceover stated:

These days, [Joe Rogan] is best known for his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, where he does pretty much whatever he wants, which during the pandemic, includes giving anti-vax campaigners a platform…. taking horse wormer ivermectin as a COVID treatment… and generally dishing out harmful advice.

The complaint

[2]  Wayne Redshaw complained the broadcast breached the accuracy standard for the following key reasons:

  • ‘Kanoa Lloyd said that Joe Rogan had been "taking horse wormer ivermectin as a covid treatment".’
  • ‘Joe Rogan clearly states in a video interview that he took the Human Drug Ivermectin as prescribed by his doctor. This is an important distinction. As the US FDA states “Animal ivermectin products are very different from those approved for humans.”’
  • ‘[Joe Rogan’s] explanation of his prescribed treatments are a direct contradiction of the narrative portrayed on the Project.’1
  • ‘Anyone watching the broadcast would have been under the clear impression that Joe Rogan had taken the horse wormer ivermectin as a covid treatment as this was clearly insinuated by Kanoa Lloyd when she said in her voice-over "taking horse wormer ivermectin as a covid treatment" and the associated video showing the animal version of the product.’
  • ‘The difference between taking an animal treatment and a Human Drug is a very material fact in my opinion and any cursory view of the video would have clarified that fact.’
  • ‘I believe the above misinformation included in the broadcast would have had a major impact on the audience’s reaction. i.e. either he’s trying an alternative treatment (on the WHO’s essential medicines list but only recommended for use in clinical trials for Covid-19) or he’s completely crazy for taking a horse dewormer! Quite a significantly material difference I would venture to say.’

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  Discovery NZ Ltd did not uphold the complaint as:

Mr Rogan promoting ivermectin as a treatment for Covid-19 has attracted global attention and the topic has been widely reported internationally. The drug is best known as a deworming treatment for horses and the Committee does not agree that referring to ivermectin as a horse wormer, which portrayed the drug for the use it is best known for, was a material fact in the Broadcast or that the reference significantly misled the audience.

The standard

[4]  The purpose of the accuracy standard2 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.3 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.’4 

Our analysis

[5]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. We also note we have previously considered a similar complaint regarding the same broadcast which raised the fairness standard.5

[6]  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 misinformation relating to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The public interest in health information and misinformation regarding COVID-19 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.

[7]  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.6

[8]  The complainant argued the broadcast was misleading as it described Rogan as taking ‘horse wormer ivermectin as a COVID treatment’, when in fact Rogan had taken the human version of the drug as prescribed by a doctor. The complainant argued this distinction was material as the broadcast describing ivermectin as an alternative treatment being used in medical trials for COVID-19 would make the treatment seem less ‘crazy’.

[9]  It may not be strictly accurate to say that Rogan took ‘horse wormer ivermectin as a COVID treatment’. However, we find the alleged inaccuracy was not likely to materially mislead viewers’ understanding of Rogan or the programme as a whole:

  • The programme was focused on artists’ (specifically Neil Young’s) opposition to Spotify’s hosting of Rogan’s podcast.
  • The mention of ivermectin use was one brief example to provide background explaining the controversy surrounding Rogan (including for his position on COVID­-19 matters and provision of a platform to those against vaccination).
  • As the Authority has previously found,7 ivermectin is commonly known as a horse de-wormer in New Zealand8 (and a subject of controversy in NZ as people were apparently consuming the animal version in response to COVID).9 Further, ivermectin is not approved as a prescription for the treatment of COVID-1910 and imports of the drug are being stopped at the border.11
  • The World Health Organisation12 and the manufacturer of ivermectin13 agree there is no evidence that ivermectin should be used to treat COVID-19.
  • Rogan is well known for his controversial stance on such matters.14

[10]  In the above context, particularly given the reference to ivermectin was part of the background to the focus of the story (the controversy around Rogan) the comment was unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the segment as a whole.15

[11]  In addition, as noted in our previous decision regarding this broadcast,16 the programme was a valuable expression of free speech and concerned issues of public interest given the connection to misinformation regarding COVID-19. Should any harm have arisen from this broadcast, it did not meet the threshold for regulatory intervention. 

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

 

Susie Staley
Chair
21 June 2022


Appendix

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

1  Wayne Redshaw’s formal complaint to Discovery – 24 February 2022

2  Discovery’s response to the complaint – 21 March 2022

3  Redshaw’s referral to the Authority – 18 April 2022

4  Discovery’s confirmation of no further comments – 27 May 2022


1 Reference video provided by complainant: PowerfulJRE “Joe's COVID Experience, CNN's Ivermectin Claims” YouTube <www.youtube.com>
2 Standard 9 of the Free-To-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
3 Commentary: Accuracy, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 18
4 Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd [2012] NZHC 131, [2012] NZAR 407 at [98]
5 Brennan and Discovery NZ Ltd¸ Decision No 2022-020
6 Guideline 9b
7 See Powell and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-127 at [12]; and Brennan and Discovery NZ Ltd¸ Decision No 2022-020 at [13]
8 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)
9 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)
10 Medsafe “Risks of importing or prescribing ivermectin for prevention or treatment of COVID-19” (6 September 2021) <www.medsafe.govt.nz>; Pharmac | Te Pātaka Whaioranga “COVID-19 Ivermectin” (10 September 2021) <pharmac.govt.nz>; Ministry of Health | Manatū Hauora “Caution about Laboratory COVID-19 Report” (8 April 2020) <www.health.govt.nz>; Ministry of Health | Manatū Hauora “Response to your request for official information (Ref: H202100482)” (15 February 2021) <www.health.govt.nz>.
11 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)
12 World Health Organisation “Therapeutics and COVID-19: living guideline” (22 April 2022) <www.who.int> at [6.10.1]: ‘… there remains great uncertainty regarding the relevance of any immunomodulatory or anti-inflammatory action of ivermectin.’
13 “Merck “Merck Statement on ivermectin use During the COVID-19 Pandemic” (4 February 2021) <www.merck.com>
14 Aaron Blake “The coronavirus misinformation on Joe Rogan’s show, explained” Washington Post (online ed, 2 February 2022); “Joe Rogan’s Covid claims: what does the science actually say?” The Guardian (online ed, 31 January 2022); EJ Dickson “‘A Menace to Public Health’: Doctors Demand Spotify Puts an End to Covid Lies on ‘Joe Rogan Experience’” Rolling Stone (online ed, 12 January 2022)
15 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
16 Brennan and Discovery NZ Ltd¸ Decision No 2022-020