The New Zealand Media Council has upheld a complaint against RNZ for multiple inaccuracies in an article published in April this year about a mix-up of client files at the ACC.
The initial RNZ story headlined Confusion of ACC files led to incorrect information being used for compensation assessment said the ACC had “mixed the records of two people and used the medical notes of one to decide how much compensation the other – a survivor of sexual abuse – should receive”.
The ACC complained that the story was unbalanced and contained a number of inaccuracies which damaged its reputation. These included the headline, lead sentence and stating that the ACC declined to be interviewed when RNZ’s questions were posed to the ACC via email. But the main incorrect allegation, that ACC used one client’s ratings to determine another’s compensation, remained online for 10 hours and reached around three-quarters of a million people. Despite subsequent corrections, the ACC said its reputation had been damaged.
The ACC said it informed RNZ that the medical assessment was complete months before information from one client’s file was mistakenly uploaded to another client’s file and at no time did the assessor received information about another customer.
RNZ acknowledged that several mistakes were made and that the story fell short of its internal editorial policies. Corrections were quickly made and an apology released the following day. Content sharing partners were also asked to post the apologies and corrections. However, RNZ said the gist of the story – that ACC breached another client’s privacy by attaching its notes to another client’s file – stood despite the inaccuracies.
If VAC’s mistake in wrongly attaching information from one client’s records to another had been the focus, the story would have been more accurate. Instead, the reporter went further and made the very misleading claim that the wrongly attached information was wrongly used in an evaluation process. He had not asked the ACC to comment, and if he had, the error would have been avoided.
The Council supports and respects investigative journalism, particularly when it leads to the exposure of systemic failings in business, government or other organizations serving the public, provided it is conducted in a consistent manner. to the principles of the Media Council. The Council took this balance into account when reviewing this complaint.
In this case, there were multiple inaccuracies, which could have been avoided had the reporter tested the client’s claims with the ACC before publication and viewed the documents in question to ensure that the balance and fairness were respected. Overall, the combination of serious inaccuracy and lack of balance and fairness, and the damage the article did immediately to confidence in the ACC, was not defused by the corrective action from RNZ. Under the circumstances, this warranted a clear hold.
The full decision of the New Zealand Media Council can be viewed at mediacouncil.org.nz.