16 Aug 2018

Media Council upholds complaint against RNZ

10:09 am on 16 August 2018

The Media Council has upheld a complaint by Michelle Levy against RNZ. The story related to a claim Dr Levy had lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal because of concerns she had that training material for undergraduate and graduate psychology programmes in New Zealand lacked sufficient Māori focused content. The Tribunal accepted the claim.

090514. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Radio New Zealand House.

File photo. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Dr Levy complained that the headline did not accurately and fairly convey the substance of the report (Principle 6). She also complained that a caption attributed words to her she never used. She maintained that she never said "most psychologists in New Zealand are clueless about Māori values". She said she also never used the words "Māori patients". She says these were not misquotes but were words she had never said (Principle 1).

RNZ accepted that the original story fell short "of our own standards as set out in editorial policies, and for that we apologise". However, referring to the Council's Principle 12 Corrections, RNZ considered they had responded reasonably quickly and refused to uphold the complaint.

Given the acknowledged lapse the Council accepted the complaint that Ms Levy never used the words attributed to her in the caption. The Council considered this an egregious error.

The Council then turned to consider Principle 12 and whether RNZ's errors could be excused under that principle. The Council were unanimous that it could not. It noted first a continuing trend of media reliance on this Principle to excuse errors. It is a principle that the Council has encouraged the media to apply but that does not mean it can excuse all errors.

The Council went on to find whether or not a correction was sufficient would depend on the circumstances of each case. It also stated that what is a reasonable time in which to correct would again be case specific. The Council stated:

  • "Furthermore, the Council is satisfied that the correction did not go far enough. In a case where a journalist has wrongly attributed factual statements to a person, any correction must point out the actual passages that were wrongly attributed and make clear they were never said by the person being interviewed. This correction fails to do that.
  • The Council is also of the view in a case such as this, with an egregious error, even noting the apology to the complainant personally, the apology should be a public one accompanying the correction.
  • We are also not satisfied that RNZ acted promptly enough in correcting the errors in this case. Given the speed of the dissemination of information by way of the internet, online corrections need to be made very promptly indeed. There is nothing to suggest they could not have been made much more quickly in this particular case."

The complaint was upheld for breaches of Principles 1 and 6. The full decision can be found at www.mediacouncil.org.nz/rulings/michelle-levy-against-rnz.