Broadcasters have been reminded about the importance of taking care when sourcing and interpreting statistics after a complaint was upheld against Mike Hosking.
Hosking made statements referring to death-rate statistics in Italy related to Covid-19 which were later deemed misleading by the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
The radio show host suggested most deaths in overseas countries, like Italy, could be attributed to underlying health conditions.
The specific comments were "many of those who die were dying anyway … there are very few – a very, very few – who you could argue die specifically of the virus.
"99.2 per cent [of people who have died of Covid-19] died with underlying health issues. In other words the very things that were killing them anyway, at over 1600 per day."
The comment aired during his Mike's Minute segment on Newstalk ZB on April 6.
Hosking also covered a range of other topics in the segment, including:
• Whether the government's Covid-19 lockdown was working;
• Whether it should be relaxed to resemble something more like the Australian situation to reduce the impact on the economy;
• Why New Zealand wasn't tested to its full daily capacity;
• The importance of remembering the total number of deaths in New Zealand, Spain, and Italy per year - as opposed to deaths from the virus specifically.
The complainant said Hosking's comments breached the accuracy and discrimination and denigration standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
However, while the BSA upheld the complaint about accuracy, it found the comment piece did not breach discrimination and denigration standards.
Judge Bill Hastings said, on behalf of the BSA, the case highlighted how important it was to be data literate when commenting on news and current events.
"We urge broadcasters to take care when sourcing and 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," Hastings said.
NZME, the broadcaster of the comment piece and publisher of the Herald, found no breach in the accuracy standard, however.
The broadcaster argued Hosking's commentary was analysis and opinion, rather than an unqualified statement of fact.
The reference to 1600 deaths a day was not inaccurate or misleading. Instead, it was a reference to the total number of daily deaths in Italy, NZME said.
To assist the BSA consideration, NZME was asked to provide the sources and dates of information Hosking relied on in making the comments.
They included two articles for the statements made about Italy's death rate and a website for the average death rates for New Zealand, Spain and Italy.
The key question in the BSA's view was whether the manner in which Hosking used statistics to support his views had the potential to mislead the audience.
After considering the information and comments from both the complainant and the broadcaster, the BSA found the comments were misleading by omission.
Secondly, it was found the broadcaster did not make reasonable efforts to ensure the programme was not misleading in that respect.
Hastings said they believed Hosking overstated the positions outlined in the sources relied on, with the article not mentioning the people in Italy were "dying anyway".
The article does not focus on evaluating the cause of death either, rather commenting on the factors which may have contributed to the high-case death-rate.
According to the BSA standards, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure all programming is accurate and the points they make do not mislead.
The accuracy standard says the objective is to protect audiences from being "significantly misinformed".