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BSA Highlights Importance Of Data Literacy Following Misleading Comments By Mike Hosking

The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has upheld a complaint that comments made by Mike Hosking about COVID-19 death rates in Italy were misleading, highlighting the importance of data literacy.

During his ‘Mike’s Minute’ segment on 6 April 2020 on Newstalk ZB, Mr Hosking made statements about Italy’s COVID-19 situation including that “99.2 percent [of people in Italy who have died of COVID-19] died with underlying health issues. In other words the very things that were killing them anyway, at over 1,600 per day.”

The Authority found Mr Hosking’s statements were misleading as the broadcaster conflated COVID-19 figures with the figure of 1,600 deaths per day in Italy and ignored both cause of death and the notion of ‘excess mortality’ (the notion that death rates are above and beyond what would normally be expected, during a time of crisis).

“Mr Hosking did not consider or acknowledge the possibility that [these people] may have died a lot sooner than they might otherwise have, due to contracting COVID-19,” the BSA said.

“One online source we considered* suggests that, for the period 1-7 April 2020, around the time of the broadcast on 6 April, Italy was experiencing a 58% deviation from its expected death rate.”

The BSA said the decision highlights the importance of data literacy, particularly in a news and current affairs context.

“We urge broadcasters to take care when interpreting statistics and drawing conclusions from scientific or other studies, given that audiences rely heavily on mainstream media to provide authoritative, reliable information on matters of public importance.”

The Authority did not make any order, finding its decision was sufficient to censure the broadcaster and to provide guidance to broadcasters generally.

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