Inaccurate reports on ‘delayed’ COVID-19 MIQ wind-up breached standards
News reports on RNZ suggesting the Government delayed ending the COVID-19 managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system despite public health advice it should be wound up immediately were inaccurate, the Broadcasting Standards Authority has found.
The Authority has upheld an accuracy complaint about RNZ news bulletins on 19 and 20 April 2022, and ordered RNZ to broadcast a statement summarising the BSA’s decision.
The bulletins reported on the Government’s apparent delay in ending the MIQ system, despite recently released public health advice from November 2021 noting a changed risk assessment meant MIQ would no longer be justified.
The Authority found the items were misleading by omission as they gave a strong impression the advice stated MIQ should be wound up immediately (rather than through a “carefully managed transition” to safely shift to a new system), and the Government had acted contrary to that advice.
The BSA did not uphold the complaint under the balance standard. Noting the standard allows balance to be achieved over time, the Authority found RNZ’s later coverage adequately conveyed the Government’s perspective.
The essence of the bulletins overall was that officials had agreed MIQ was no longer justified on public health grounds in November 2021, but it took another three and a half months, seven rounds of the room release lottery and up to 40,000 MIQ stays until the system was wound up.
The Authority said given the very high level of public interest, ensuring accuracy and balance in the reporting of this story was particularly important.
“With this in mind, we concluded the broadcaster did not make reasonable efforts to ensure the coverage accurately presented the full picture. Having regard to the November public health advice the coverage was, in our view, misleading by omission,” the Authority said.
The items gave a strong message the Government had ignored public health advice to discontinue MIQ immediately and delayed it another three to four months, without adequate acknowledgement of the advice’s recommendations regarding “a carefully managed transition”.
“As a result, we consider there was a real risk that New Zealanders could be misled about matters of public importance through the exclusion of important contextual information, and therefore a restriction on freedom of expression is justified in this case,” the Authority said.
The decision can be seen on the BSA website here.
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