Comments About Ethnic ‘priority’ For Surgical Waitlists Ruled Misleading And Discriminatory

Published: Tue 9 Apr 2024 10:20 AM
Comments by radio host Kate Hawkesby suggesting Māori and Pacific patients were being prioritised for surgery due to their ethnicity were misleading and discriminatory, the Broadcasting Standards Authority has found.
The Authority has upheld a complaint the remarks broadcast on Newstalk ZB’s Early Edition with Kate Hawkesby breached the accuracy and discrimination and denigration standards. It has ordered broadcaster NZME to air a statement summarising the decision and to pay the Crown costs of $1,500.
The decision relates to a 19 June 2023 broadcast in which Hawkesby discussed Te Whatu Ora | Health New Zealand’s new Equity Adjustor Score in the Auckland region. This system uses five categories to place patients on the non-urgent surgical waitlist, including clinical priority, time spent waiting, location, deprivation level and ethnicity.
Hawkesby made statements to the effect that the score meant Māori and Pacific people were being “moved to the top of surgery waitlists”. The BSA found this gave the misleading impression ethnicity was the only, or the key factor, involved in the assessment, and this meant Māori and Pacific patients would be given immediate precedence on the surgical waitlist.
It also found the comments breached the discrimination and denigration standard by reinforcing or embedding negative stereotypes.
“Hawkesby’s comments played into the stereotype that Māori and Pacific peoples disproportionately take up resources and are given undeserved special treatment in Aotearoa New Zealand’s society, at the expense of other ethnicities. While not said explicitly, in our view, the exaggerated and misleading nature of Hawkesby’s comments had the effect of evoking this type of prejudicial bias,” the BSA said.
In deciding to impose orders, the Authority noted: “The conduct was serious, featuring repeated and sustained inaccurate descriptions of the Equity Adjustor Score over the course of a one-hour broadcast, which in turn had the effect of embedding negative stereotypes about Māori and Pacific peoples. This was despite accurate information being to hand.
“There was a high level of public interest and some controversy in the introduction of the Equity Adjustor Score at the time, meaning while there was value in discussing and generating debate about the issue, it was important for reporting on the subject to be accurate.
“The broadcaster chose to frame an important news story in a misleading and inflammatory manner. The framing of the issue created an environment where potentially harmful comments from the audience were foreseeable, and the broadcaster chose to read many such comments out on air.
“As a result, the broadcast had the potential to cause serious harm, both to Māori and Pacific peoples – minority groups which already experience significant disadvantages in our community – as well as the audience more generally.”
The full decision can be seen on the BSA website here.
The accuracy standard’s purpose is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed. Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure news, current affairs or factual content is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. Where a material error of fact has occurred, broadcasters should correct it within a reasonable period after they have been put on notice.
The purpose of the discrimination and denigration standard is to protect sections of the community from verbal and other attacks, and to foster a community commitment to equality. Broadcasts should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief. Discrimination is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community, to their detriment. Denigration is defined as devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community.

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