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Selective use of evidence risks fuelling Covid misinformation, BSA warns

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The Broadcasting Standards Authority has warned of the dangers of fuelling COVID-19 misinformation by selectively quoting reports or data out of context.

The warning comes as the Authority declined to uphold a complaint alleging a TV report was incorrect in stating the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is safe for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The decision released today relates to an interview about the vaccine’s composition and safety with Dr Nikki Turner, Medical Director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre.

In the interview screened on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp on 13 October 2021, Host Jeremy Wells asked Dr Turner if the vaccine was safe for pregnant or breastfeeding people. Dr Turner responded that the vaccine was safe and "definitely recommended highly" for both groups.

The complainant claimed the segment breached the balance, accuracy and fairness standards as Dr Turner’s comments were incorrect, saying: ‘Pfizer’s own health warning message clearly states…that this vaccine is not safe for women intending to be pregnant, pregnant or breastfeeding.’

Having fully reviewed the material cited by the complainant, the Authority determined it "does not support the safety concerns identified".

It found no breaches of standards, saying the statements on Seven Sharp were materially accurate and, in any event, it was reasonable for TVNZ to rely on Dr Turner as an authoritative source.

In dismissing material relied on by the complainant, the Authority issued a note of caution over the dangers of fuelling the rise of misinformation.

"This situation demonstrates the dangers of drawing definitive conclusions from specific extracts of information or raw data without careful review or an understanding of the relevant context.

"We caution against such behaviour which runs the very real risk of contributing to misinformation on a significant issue of public safety," the Authority said in its decision.

The decision confirms a previous BSA finding that there is scientific consensus around the safety of the vaccine.

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