New Zealand Law Society - Inaccuracy leads to warning about use of social media information

Inaccuracy leads to warning about use of social media information

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The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has upheld a complaint about an erroneous report that relied on social media.

Over two evenings in January this year, Newshub reported on the delayed launch of a rocket from the Māhia Peninsula, implying that a Hastings District councillor had been in a boat in the exclusion zone around the launch site and was responsible for the delay.

The BSA upheld a complaint from the councillor, Damon Harvey, that the items were inaccurate and misleading, and unfair on him.

The BSA found the broadcaster relied on social media content sourced from Twitter without taking reasonable steps to inform the complainants about their contribution to the programme, or to verify that the content was what the reporter claimed.

The authority says broadcasters have an obligation to ensure that use of social media content does not cause harm.  

“Broadcasters must ... use social media content carefully to ensure that it is accurate and that publication does not unfairly impact on individuals,” it says in its decision.

The BSA says, in the first item, the broadcaster did not take steps to verify the timing of the original tweet and photograph it used, and incorrectly reported that Mr Harvey was in the exclusion zone at the time of the proposed launch, when he wasn’t.

The second item featured a brief clip from an interview with Mr Harvey in response, but the BSA found that this was edited in a way that was misleading and did not correct the impression given previously that Mr Harvey had been responsible for the launch delay.

In this decision the authority cautions broadcasters about the care needed when using social media. “Twitter by its nature is a very public social media platform. ... [I]n this case the content posted to Twitter was rebroadcast in a way that did not reflect the true series of events and which was likely to be damaging to Mr Harvey.”

The BSA ordered Three to broadcast a statement during Newshub, summarising the decision, and to publish statements online and in local print media. It also ordered MediaWorks to pay $1,000 in costs and $2,000 in contribution towards the complainants’ legal costs.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority undertook research in 2017 into the use of social media content in broadcasting. Following the research, the BSA worked alongside broadcasters to produce a guidance note for broadcasters about use of third party content, such as social media content. This guidance highlights the issues addressed in this decision and can be found on our website here.

One News also criticised by BSA

Meanwhile, the authority has upheld a complaint about an item on One News, which discussed the Auckland Council’s vote on the draft proposal for the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax.

The authority found the segment, through the omission of key information about the ongoing consultation and the presenter’s use of the terms ‘green light’ and ‘done deal’, was likely to mislead viewers into thinking the proposal voted on by the council was final and that there was no further period of public consultation.