External Review of Decisions 2022 - Accuracy Standard
Date published: 26 July 2022
Reviewer: Emeritus Professor John Burrows, Media Law specialist
The BSA invited Prof Burrows to independently review five decisions issued by the Authority under the accuracy standard. The objective was to assess whether the BSA’s reasoning process and/or interpretation of the accuracy standard were appropriate and reasonable. This would provide feedback to the BSA, so it can consider any areas for improvement in the delivery of its functions, or its application of the standard.
The decisions reviewed were:
- Cumin and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2021-068 (13 October 2021) (Issue of accuracy in maps of Palestine/Israel)
- Burne-Field and NZME Radio Ltd - 2020-040 (14 September 2020) (Misleading conclusions drawn by Mike Hosking about COVID-19 death rate statistics in Italy)
- Naughton and Mainland Television Limited & Daystar Television - 2021-103 (16 February 2022) (Marcus and Joni programme promotion of falsehoods regarding COVID-19 and vaccine safety)
- Gilchrist and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2021-130 (20 December 2021) (Description of the COVID-19 vaccine’s approval as the ‘same as everyday medicines like Panadol and Nurofen’)
- NZDSOS Inc and Television New Zealand Ltd – 2022-005 (26 April 2022) (Accuracy of expert statements about the safety of COVID-19 vaccine)
Results and BSA Actions
Overall, Prof Burrows found the reviewed decisions were ‘sound and realistic’ and that the BSA was doing a ‘difficult job well’. He considered the style of decision writing was generally appropriate for a diverse audience.
Other general feedback included:
- The Authority had ‘by and large forgiven smaller errors and omissions which do not interfere too much with the central message’ and, in the case of the NZDSOS decision, had said that where expert input is used the crux of the broadcaster’s responsibility is to pick a reputable expert. This was part of an overall approach which Prof Burrows considered ‘realistic’.
- The value of citing previous cases in decisions, ensuring consistency and saving time, was emphasised. Prof Burrows encouraged the Authority to compile a manual or index of readily accessible ‘leading decisions’, an initiative the BSA has put into action.
- Prof Burrows stressed the need, when dealing with issues of high public importance and ‘in times of unrest and dissension’, for rigorously researched and reasoned decisions which convincingly answer the parties’ arguments. He considered this was being done well.
- He noted the value of returning to the issue of freedom of expression at the end of a decision to show how it influenced the final determination.
The BSA has noted the recommendations. It will take them into account in future decisions involving the accuracy standard and will make the report available to broadcasters/stakeholders who are also likely to find it useful.