Expert’s COVID-19 vaccine statements on Seven Sharp not inaccurate, BSA finds
The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has not upheld a complaint that a Seven Sharp segment breached the accuracy standard when a leading immunisation expert described the composition and safety of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
The complaint related to an interview with Dr Nikki Turner, Medical Director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, on the TVNZ show on 13 October 2021. Dr Turner described the makeup of the vaccine and said it was safe for all but a few people and recommended for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
New Zealand Doctors Speaking Out with Science complained the broadcast breached the accuracy standard. The complaint included claims that Dr Turner failed to accurately state key vaccine components, or mention serious side effects or that studies into the vaccine’s safety are ongoing.
In declining to uphold the complaint, the BSA found it was reasonable for TVNZ to rely on Dr Turner as an authoritative source and, in any event, the segment was materially accurate.
It noted Dr Turner’s expertise covers COVID-19 issues, the Immunisation Advisory Centre played a key role in supporting the vaccine rollout and is a member of Vaccine Safety Net, a World Health Organisation-led project providing reliable information on vaccine safety.
It also emphasised the public interest in relying on qualified experts. This “allows the public to benefit from their expertise (including their knowledge of relevant studies). More could not be expected [from TVNZ] in these circumstances”, the Authority said in its decision.
The BSA also found Dr Turner’s statements were supported by international medical consensus.
“We consider the segment was materially accurate and would not have misled viewers. The vaccine’s safety has repeatedly been accepted by medical authorities around the world.”
Dr Turner summarised the vaccine’s ingredients in accessible language for an audience untrained in biochemistry. Using the technical jargon of key components would have been outside audience expectations, the Authority said.
The omission of references to side effects did not make the broadcast misleading or inaccurate.
“We are conscious many vaccines and medicines cause side effects in some people and the question of safety for the public generally does not rely on excluding the risk of any side effects, but rather undertaking a risk-benefit analysis to ensure the safety profile is acceptable,” the BSA said.
It noted mRNA vaccines (the type including the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine) have been studied for decades, with safety testing held to the same rigorous standards as any other vaccine.
Addressing the complainant’s argument that the severity of COVID-19 (specifically its global infection-fatality rate) is similar to that of influenza, the Authority said: “This has been consistently disproven. There is some uncertainty on the correct infection-fatality rate for COVID-19 (which significantly depends on age groups), but these rates are generally higher than that for influenza.”
The full decision can be seen at https://www.bsa.govt.nz/decisions/all-decisions/nzdsos-inc-and-television-new-zealand-ltd-2022-005-26-april-2022/. The decision was made under the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice (2020 edition) which is available to view on our website: https://bsa.govt.nz/broadcasting-standards/broadcasting-code-book/.
ABOUT THE BROADCASTING STANDARDS AUTHORITY
The BSA is an independent Crown entity that oversees the broadcasting standards regime in New Zealand. It determines complaints that broadcasts have breached standards, undertakes research and oversees the development of broadcasting standards in consultation with broadcasters.
For more information see our website: www.bsa.govt.nz