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SST censured over accuracy & phoney quote

Sunday Star-Times censured over accuracy & phoney quote

The Sunday Star-Times has been censured by the Press Council for publishing a misleading and unbalanced story about food safety during pregnancy.

In a landmark decision, the Press Council has ruled the newspaper was wrong to manufacture a headline quote which “did not accurately convey the substance of the article”.

The contrived quote: “I gave my baby deadly parasite by eating undercooked chicken” appeared above a July 30 interview with a mother whose baby contracted toxoplasmosis while she was pregnant.

In the interview, the woman said she suspected poultry was to blame because she felt unwell soon after eating a restaurant meal of butter chicken.

But feeling unwell after a meal is not a symptom of toxoplasmosis. Health authorities agree it can take up to 3 weeks before flu-like symptoms will first appear. Healthy adults rarely have any signs or symptoms at all.

These points were not mentioned by the newspaper.

In a complaint to the Press Council, the Poultry Industry Association of New Zealand (PIANZ) challenged the tone and content of the article, including the phoney headline.

The Association argued the headline was presented as a direct quote. It left readers with the impression there was a clear, undisputable link between the baby’s illness and the mother’s suspect meal.

The Press Council agrees no such link was established.

PIANZ also complained about the article’s lack of balance. The Sunday Star-Times relied almost completely on the suspicions of the woman and her grandmother. There was no comment from the Ministry of Health, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, or anyone from the poultry industry.

The Press Council says the strength of the claim made in the headline only served to draw attention to the lack of other, balancing views. The Council upheld the PIANZ complaint on both grounds (lack of balance, lack of accuracy).

PIANZ Executive Director Michael Brooks has welcomed the Council’s ruling.

Mr Brooks says he supports responsible and thorough reporting of industry issues. But he says manufactured quotes and hysterical reporting should not go unchallenged.

“The Press Council’s ruling is an important one,” he says.

“It is a reminder that New Zealanders do not deserve – and will not tolerate - manipulated or manufactured news. This is cheap, dirty journalism.”


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