Talk show celebrity Mike Hosking has been reprimanded by the Broadcasting Standards Authority. But, writes PAT PILCHER, maybe the opprobrium should be directed to his employers.
I’ve written about the punditry that is so prevalent throughout New Zealand’s media, and even more recently asked just what planet Mike Hosking lives on. His rants are inflammatory and are the stuff of clickbait. Now it seems that he’s crossed the boundary from provocative to misleading.
No, it isn’t just me (and a good many others) ranting, the broadcasting standards authority agrees too. They upheld a complaint about Hosking’s recent comments on Covid-19 death rates, ruling that his words were misleading.
Good on the BSA on calling out Hosking for playing fast and loose with the facts. But the reality is that although Hosking is perfectly entitled to his views, the editors at NewsTalk ZB should know better.
Covid-19 isn’t a game. It has left the global economy in tatters and mass graves filled. Last week New Zealand recorded its 25th Covid-19 death while a staggering 955,000 (and probably more given the under-reporting of some countries) fatalities have occurred globally.
Some sanity has prevailed. It appears that the piece containing the offending comment was taken down by Newstalk ZB. In it, Hosking said that many of those who died of Covid-19 had died “with the virus”, not “of it”. His rant continued with him lamenting that no-one was reporting that wee “fact”. He even went on to say: “The coverage you are getting is – to an extent – false.” How ironic is that?
Here’s the thing. If you catch Covid-19, your chances of dying increases dramatically compared to anyone who is Covid-19 free. It’s not rocket science, and I’m sure the families of the million or so people who have been killed by it so far would take issue with Hosking’s poorly informed rantings. Thank goodness someone in NZ did, and the BSA found he’d misrepresented things, ignoring the growing body of peer-reviewed science around Covid-19.
Here’s the incredible thing. NewsTalk ZB (whose job it is to make sure that what Hosking’s says is accurate and ethically sound) doubled down on his fantastic claims. Instead of admitting they were in the wrong and issuing a mia culpa, they contested the BSA’s ruling. They said that most listeners are aware that Mike’s Minute is based on his own opinions.
Opinion or not, the stakes are far too high with Covid-19 for any such flimflammery to wash. It only takes one person who agrees with Mike’s views to get infected with Covid-19 and spread it to others. From there, it can take hold at an exponential rate and we have a cluster. Businesses will struggle, people will be inconvenienced and others will get sick, while some (25 have already) will die.
The BSA said that their ruling should “not unreasonably prevent Mr Hosking from expressing his views,” and that “it reasonably requires Mr Hosking to express his views in a way that does not propagate a selective or misleading interpretation of the factual sources relied on, or omit important contextual information that may alter listeners’ understanding of the views presented on a topic of high public interest”.
I’d argue they didn’t go far enough.
Saying Hosking is entitled to his opinions but that he and NewsTalk ZB should act to ensure these views take into account ALL the facts, not just those that suit Hosking.
There is a long history of Hosking airing opinions based on cherry-picked facts. Put simply, a slap on the wrist with a damp bus ticket probably won’t change anything.
The media cannot and should never shrug their responsibility to their audiences when it suits them, especially during a global pandemic. We would also like to see fewer media personalities talking from a position of ignorance and more actual experts giving informed opinions.
If NewsTalk ZB believes Hosking’s opinions absolve them from responsibility, they should be forced to air disclaimers during his segment. These should say, “Mike’s views are opinions. They may not be factually correct. Listeners should utilise their own discretion and tune in to media that uses facts instead of opinions”. Funnily enough, I can’t see that happening any time soon.
Playing fast and loose with facts isn’t something new to Hosking. He had previously said that the NZ lockdown “may be a complete waste of time”. He also said that while 10 per cent of Iceland’s population had been tested for Covid-19 and that “about half the population at any given time has the virus and doesn’t know it”. The fact that those who were Covid positive and asymptomatic represented less than 1 per cent of people tested in Iceland was never mentioned, perhaps because it’d fundamentally weaken his argument.
Incredibly, this isn’t the first time Hosking has come to the attention of the BSA. In 2015 Hosking was taken to task by the BSA over inappropriate comments aimed at a waitress who alleged that the then PM, John Key, had pulled her ponytail. In 2016 the BSA received complaints about comments made by Hosking that were critical of New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd, who had resigned following abuse received for proposing a Maori ward to the local council. The complaints alleged racism in Hosking’s remarks. Although the BSA didn’t uphold the complaint, they condemned Hosking’s behaviour. In 2017, before the election, Hosking said that only those enrolled in a Maori electorate were able to vote for the Maori Party. Members of the Maori Party said his statement was misleading and lodged a complaint with TVNZ and the Electoral Commission. The complaint was referred to the BSA, who upheld it.
Could it be that the BSA needs to be given some real teeth to make sure this sort of nonsense doesn’t keep playing on repeat? If you find that Hosking’s shenanigans offend, we’d urge you to vote with your remote. That might be the only thing that’ll see Newstalk ZB acting responsibly as it is abundantly clear Mike Hosking doesn’t know how, or care.