BSA highlights importance of data literacy following misleading comments by Mike Hosking on Italy’s COVID-19 deaths
The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has upheld a complaint that comments made by Mike Hosking about COVID-19 death rates in Italy were misleading, highlighting the importance of data literacy.
During his ‘Mike’s Minute’ segment on 6 April 2020 on Newstalk ZB, Mr Hosking made statements about Italy’s COVID-19 situation including that “99.2 percent [of people in Italy who have died of COVID-19] died with underlying health issues. In other words the very things that were killing them anyway, at over 1,600 per day.”
The Authority found Mr Hosking’s statements were misleading as the broadcaster conflated COVID-19 figures with the figure of 1,600 deaths per day in Italy and ignored both cause of death and the notion of ‘excess mortality’ (the notion that death rates are above and beyond what would normally be expected, during a time of crisis).
“Mr Hosking did not consider or acknowledge the possibility that [these people] may have died a lot sooner than they might otherwise have, due to contracting COVID-19,” the BSA said.
“One online source we considered* suggests that, for the period 1-7 April 2020, around the time of the broadcast on 6 April, Italy was experiencing a 58% deviation from its expected death rate.”
The BSA said the decision highlights the importance of data literacy, particularly in a news and current affairs context.
“We urge broadcasters to take care when interpreting statistics and drawing conclusions from scientific or other studies, given that audiences rely heavily on mainstream media to provide authoritative, reliable information on matters of public importance.”
The Authority did not make any order, finding its decision was sufficient to censure the broadcaster and to provide guidance to broadcasters generally.
For more information contact Raina Ng on 021 623 794.
The item was broadcast on 6 April 2020 on Newstalk ZB. The full decision is available at: https://www.bsa.govt.nz/decisions/all-decisions/burne-field-and-nzme-radio-ltd-2020-040-14-september-2020/. The decision was made under the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice which is available to view on our website: https://bsa.govt.nz/broadcasting-standards/broadcasting-code-book/.
* See https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/07/15/tracking-covid-19-excess-deaths-across-countries (accessed 7 August 2020)
ABOUT THE BROADCASTING STANDARDS AUTHORITY
The BSA is an independent Crown entity that oversees the broadcasting standards regime in New Zealand. The BSA determines complaints that broadcasts have breached standards, undertakes research and oversees the development of broadcasting standards in consultation with broadcasters.
The Authority members are Judge Bill Hastings (Chair), Paula Rose QSO, Susie Staley MNZM and Leigh Pearson. The Acting Chief Executive is Helen Cruse.
For more information see our website: www.bsa.govt.nz