Was Hawkesby entirely wrong?

The BAS ruled:

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.

It is a fact such patients are prioritised. The exacts words Hawkesby used were not correct, but the fact there is prioritisation was correct.

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.

Hawkesby was wrong to say that ethnicity alone would move you to the top of the waitlist. It would move you higher, but not to the top. Whether such a distinction is so significant enough to require a sanction is debatable.

“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.

While her exact comments were wrong, it is also wrong to say that Maori and Pacific people do not get special treatment. Whether it is deserved or not is a matter of opinion, not fact.

A reader points out:

Even if we ignore the arguably implicit “within the same acuity” suffix to Hawkesby’s comments, some very basic modelling (based on https://www.tewhatuora.govt.nz/assets/Publications/OIA-response/Equity-OIA/2.-Equity-Adjustor-Implementation-Guidelines.pdf), and not taking into account deprivation or the remote location loading (which would disproportionately increase scores for Maori and PI compared to others), a Maori with P4 acuity will have a higher score than a ‘other’ ethnicity with acuity P3 if they have both been waiting between 81 and 93 days, inclusive.
It’s unusual for BSA to take such a hard line on broadcasters when there is not an absolutely clear breach of accuracy.

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