BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Gilchrist and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2021-130 (20 December 2021)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
Dated
Complainant
  • Rose Gilchrist
Number
2021-130
Programme
the AM Show
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary  

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

Following an interview with a COVID-19 vaccine advocate on the AM Show, the host noted Medsafe gave the vaccine the ‘same approval as everyday medicines like Panadol and Nurofen’. The complaint stated this was misleading and in breach of five standards, including the accuracy standard. The Authority did not uphold the complaint as the accuracy standard is concerned with material inaccuracy. To the extent there was any inaccuracy, it was unlikely to significantly affect the audience’s understanding of the programme. The Authority considered the other standards raised either did not apply or were not breached.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Good Taste and Decency, Programme Information, Balance, Fairness


The broadcast

[1]  On The AM Show on 1 October 2021, Ryan Bridge interviewed a vaccine sceptic, turned vaccine advocate. Following that interview, Bridge stated:

…it is important to note the vaccine has been approved and backed by Medsafe who are the New Zealand medicines and medical devices safety authority. They're responsible for the regulation of therapeutic products in New Zealand and they've given the vaccine the same approval as everyday medicines like Panadol and Nurofen that we use regularly.

The complaint

[2]  Rose Gilchrist complained the segment breached various standards including the accuracy standard as:

  • ‘The information that Ryan Bridge stated was incorrect and very misleading’ as ‘all the audience hear is it’s as safe as [Panadol] and [Nurofen]’.
  • ‘I feel that this is misinformation and they are not willing to admit the damage they may be doing in informing people about making choices for their health.’

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  Discovery NZ Ltd (Discovery) did not uphold the complaint. It noted:

…the Pfizer vaccination has received provisional approval from MedSafe, which means it has been formally assessed after a thorough assessment, and Panadol and Nurofen have full approvals… this is a technical point that does not significantly affect the audience's understanding of the message the presenter was attempting to convey. [Bridge’s] point was that the vaccine is safe.

The standards

[4]  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 

[5]  We consider the accuracy standard is most relevant to the complaint. However, the good taste and decency, programme information, balance and fairness standards are dealt with briefly at paragraph [11].

Our analysis

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

[7]  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.

[8]  There is a high public interest in the broadcast given the issue of vaccine hesitancy amid the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Accuracy

[9]  The accuracy standard is concerned only 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]  We found the presenter’s statement was materially accurate. In reaching this view, we took into account the following factors:

  • At the conclusion of the interview, Bridge asked ‘you've had both doses and yet you're still here’. He then referred to the vaccine being approved by Medsafe. In this context, the audience would likely understand the reference to the vaccine’s approval status as reflecting the safety of the vaccine.
  • We have previously acknowledged the consensus, by authorities around the world, on the safety of the Pfizer vaccine.5
  • We accept the Pfizer vaccine has been given provisional consent by the Minister, under section 23 of the Medicines Act 1981,6 whereas Panadol and Nurofen have full consent under section 20 of the Medicines Act.7 Further, Nurofen and Panadol are both available over the counter, meaning they can be bought from a supermarket, whereas the vaccine is an injection provided by a qualified practitioner.
  • However, these distinctions are unlikely to significantly affect a viewer’s understanding of the segment as a whole. Provisional consent means the COVID-19 vaccine has been approved on the condition Medsafe continues to receive and review further data about this vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.8 Medsafe recognised ‘most vaccines will be granted provisional consent because data to support the longer-term safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines is not yet available.’9 This is particularly so with certain population sub-groups omitted from vaccine trials.10 The vaccine’s provisional consent is not due to any safety risks, but rather due to the lack of long term data (and as it is not currently recommended for children under 12 years of age).11
  • We also note provisional consent is different to approving a vaccine for ‘emergency use’, which other countries have done based on early data and an urgent need to start vaccinating as soon as possible.12 New Zealand did not need to go through this route (provided for in section 24D of the Medicines Act) as it could wait until robust data existed supporting the vaccine’s safety.13

Remaining standards

[11]  We consider the remaining standards either did not apply or were not breached:

  • Good taste and decency: The good taste and decency standard14 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.15 The relevant comments were unlikely to cause such offence or distress.
  • Programme information: The programme information standard16 requires broadcasters to ensure programmes are correctly classified and screened in appropriate timebands, and where appropriate, issue audience advisories. News and current affairs are not subject to classification because of their distinct nature.17
  • Balance: the balance standard18 requires reasonable efforts to be made to reflect significant perspectives when ‘controversial issues of public importance’ are discussed in news and current affairs programmes.19 The Pfizer vaccine’s current Medsafe level of approval is not an ‘issue’, it is a fact. Further, we have previously held the safety of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine was not a controversial issue for the purposes of the standard due to consensus about its safety (as noted at paragraph [10], above).
  • Fairness: the fairness standard20 is concerned with preventing undue harm to the dignity and reputation of any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.21  As the complainant has not identified a person or organisation treated unfairly in the broadcast, this standard does not apply.

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  Rose Gilchrist’s formal complaint to Discovery – 2 October 2021

2  Discovery’s response to the complaint – 28 October 2021

3  Gilchrist’s referral to the Authority – 28 October 2021

4  Discovery’s confirmation of no further comment – 3 November 2021

5  Gilchrist’s confirmation of standards raised – 3 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 Donald and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-033 at [15]–[18]
6 Medsafe “Approval status of COVID vaccines applications received by Medsafe” (28 October 2021) <medsafe.govt.nz>; and see “Provisional Consent to the Distribution of a New Medicine” (8 November 2021) New Zealand Gazette 2021-go4766
7 Medsafe “Product/Application Search” (3 September 2021) <medsafe.govt.nz> searching ‘Panadol’ then ‘Nurofen’ in ‘Trade name’ field
8 The Immunisation Advisory Centre “Vaccine approval process in NZ” (29 October 2021) <covid.immune.org.nz>
9 Medsafe “COVID-19: Vaccine Evaluation and Approval Process” (27 November 2020
10 Nidhi Subbaraman “Pregnancy and COVID: what the data say” (online ed, 9 March 2021) Nature <nature.com>
11 The Immunisation Advisory Centre, above n 8
12 The Immunisation Advisory Centre, above n 8
13 The Immunisation Advisory Centre, above n 8
14 Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
15 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
16 Standard 2 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
17 Guideline 2f
18 Standard 8 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
19 Guideline 8a
20 Standard 11 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
21 Commentary: Fairness, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 21