Thursday, February 11, 2010

Facts toasted in reporting Rio roast

Update reply received 12/4/2010: see outcome below
ABC HEADLINE: "32 killed as heatwave roasts Rio" posted ABC news online 11/2/2010
ABC REPORTED: ABC News online reported on a heat wave in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The report claimed:
1. the heatwave was the worst in 50 years;
2. 32 elderly residents in Santos, a city 350 km south of Rio died due to the hot conditions;
3. Rio’s recorded temperature on Tuesday 9/2/2010 of 46.3C was the hottest on the planet.
The story is credited to AFP and has been widely reproduced by news networks including the ABC.
The story contains several factual errors.
  1. Claims of the worst heatwave in 50 years are not substantiated by independent sources. Did the ABC attempt to substantiate these claims?
  2. The report fails to mention that the elderly residents all suffered from “pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or hypertension” Source The Headline falsely implies the deaths were in Rio, when they actually were in Santos, 350 km south.
  3. The reported temperature of 46.3C in RIO on the Tuesday does not match official figures available from INMET at ( This reports temperatures for Rio de Janerio as 40.4C on 7/2/2010; 40.7C 0n 8/2/2010; 40.5C on 9/2/2010 and 38.3C on 10/2/2010. Maximum temperature reported for Rio de janeiro on Tuesday 9/2/2010 by weatherunderground is 35C ( Based on official figures from INMET temperatures were above 40 but hardly “well above” 40 as claimed.
Note that the heatwave does not appear to have been reported by newspapers in Brazil (eg
Can the ABC please investigate and if necessary correct factual errors with this story?

Thank you for your email of 11 February concerning the ABC News Online story “32 killed as heatwave roasts Rio”, published that day. In line with ABC complaints procedures, your concerns have been investigated by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit independent of content making areas within the ABC. I regret the delay in responding.

I should first explain that partner news agency stories, such as this story from AFP, are not “secondary sources” for the purposes of the ABC’s Editorial Policies. Instead, such content is presented as an ABC News story and is required to meet the editorial requirement for accuracy in news and current affairs content, as outlined in section 5.2.2(c) of the ABC’s Editorial Policies: Accordingly, in light of your concerns, we have assessed the story against this requirement.

On review, Audience and Consumer Affairs agree that the headline of the story gave the misleading impression that the 32 deaths occurred in Rio de Janeiro. As stated in the story, the 32 deaths occurred in Santos, a city 350 kilometres south of Rio. I also understand that ABC News has been advised by AFP that the temperature data for Rio cited in the story was incorrect, and AFP are in the process of circulating an amended story. Accordingly, Audience and Consumer Affairs have found the story to be in breach of the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy in respect to both the headline and the temperature data for Rio de Janeiro. ABC News regrets these lapses in editorial standards and is in the process of removing the story from the ABC’s website.

In respect to your concerns that the story claimed the heatwave was the worst in 50 years, Audience and Consumer Affairs note that this was not presented as a statement of fact but attributed to officials. The article subsequently makes clear that the comments are from meteorologist Giovanni Dolif, who claimed the heatwave was “historic” and Rio was experiencing the hottest month in 50 years. Comments from third parties reported as an attributed viewpoint are not considered factual content for the purposes of the ABC’s Editorial Policies, nor do they represent the editorial opinion of the ABC. Accordingly, we are satisfied this aspect of the story was consistent with the ABC’s editorial standards.

You also raise concerns about the story not mentioning that the 32 people who died as a result of the heatwave had pre-existing medical conditions. The story made clear that those who died were elderly, a factor that increases risk in hot conditions. Audience and Consumer Affairs believe it is not necessary to detail their medical history, and consider the descriptor of the deceased as “elderly” provided sufficient context to convey they were in an at-risk category. Accordingly, we believe the story’s reporting of the deaths in Santos was in keeping with the ABC’s editorial requirement for accuracy.

We appreciate you bringing this matter to our attention, and wish to assure you that your comments have been conveyed to ABC News management. For your reference, a copy of the ABC Code of Practice is available at:

Yours sincerely
Audience & Consumer Affairs

ABC News Online, 11 February 2010

Summary published: Wednesday 21, April 2010

Complaint:  An online reader complained that a report “32 killed as heatwave roasts Rio” contained inaccuracies.

Audience and Consumer Affairs response:  The ABC acknowledged that the headline of the story inaccurately implied that the thirty two deaths occurred in Rio de Janeiro. As was stated in the story, the deaths occurred in Santos, a city 350 kilometres south of Rio. Further, temperature data for Rio cited in the story was incorrect. The report was removed from the ABC website.

COMMENT: Check the facts and cross check and verify sources.
The principles of editorial practice for news and current affairs content
5.2.2 (c) Be accurate.
(i) Every reasonable effort, in the circumstances, must be made to ensure that the factual content of news and current affairs is accurate and in context.
Secondary Sources
5.6.1 Where secondary sources such as media releases or other media reports are used to either generate ideas or gather information, the information drawn from those sources must be cross-checked and verified before use.

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