BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Brewster and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2022-103 (22 November 2022)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
  • Richard Brewster
1 News


[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The Authority has not upheld a complaint an item on 1 News reporting on people living in cars breached the accuracy standard. The broadcast included figures of the number of people living in cars in 2017 and 2022, but noted the issue was ‘not easy to quantify’. It also included interviews with community organisations, footage from 2017 electoral debates on the issue, and interviews with the Associate Housing Minister and Leader of the Opposition. The complaint alleged the figures were inaccurate and the broadcast misleadingly suggested Labour Party policy was responsible for the issue. The Authority recognised a lack of data in this area, but found the broadcast was materially accurate and, in any event, relied on reputable sources (being data provided by the Ministry of Social Development). It also found the content suggesting the issue had become ‘worse’ under Labour or that Labour had ‘failed’ constituted comment or analysis which is not subject to the standard.

Not Upheld: Accuracy

The broadcast

[1]  An item on 1 News, broadcast on 31 July 2022, reported on people living in their cars. The item was introduced as follows:

Hundreds are living in cars in the middle of winter according to the latest figures, and those on the ground say the situation is heartbreaking. It was a hot political topic in 2017 with constant reports about rough sleeping. But as political editor Jessica Mutch McKay reports, five years on, things are even worse.

[2]  The item included interviews with some people living in their cars, then noted:

In fact, the latest figures released to 1 News show there's hundreds like them. It's not easy to quantify, but when people apply for emergency housing, the Social Development Ministry records where they're living now. At the end of 2017, 108 said they lived in cars, but last month, 480 said they were living in their vehicles and those on the ground back up those numbers.

[3]  The dates and figures were displayed in an on-screen graphic referring to December 2017 and June 2022, with a note stating ‘Source: Ministry of Social Development’.

[4]  The remainder of the item included:

  • interviews with community organisations Lifewise Youth Housing and Auckland City Mission who commented on what they were seeing in this area (with the Auckland City Mission spokesperson noting an increase in notifications of people sleeping rough or in cars).
  • footage from the 2017 election where the issue was a ‘hot political topic’ with the reporter commenting ‘but five years on the problem is much worse. The Minister responsible says that’s partly because there’s better reporting of numbers.’
  • an interview with Associate Housing Minister Marama Davidson.
  • an interview with Leader of the Opposition Christopher Luxon in which he stated ‘I think the Government needs to take responsibility. 5 years in power and actually housing has been an abject failure on all levels in New Zealand.’

The complaint

[5]  Richard Brewster complained the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand as the item was ‘without evidence and very clearly politically biased’, suggesting Labour Party policies were the cause of the problem. Specifically:

  • The figure for people living in their cars in 2017 (108) is inaccurate.
  • ‘The programme clearly summarises that the Labour government has failed on homelessness and the figures’ prove this.
  • The programme referred to anecdotal evidence to support the figure of 480. ‘However, the anecdotal evidence [is] that homelessness and living in cars, in 2017, was much worse than 108 people, and also much worse than the 480’ figure in 2022, referring to a Parliamentary debate (where Amy Adams MP noted the National Party planned to build 6400 houses to deal with the problem, ‘an unlikely figure if there were only 108 people living in cars’) and news articles from 2017 highlighting the issue of homelessness and living in cars.1
  • ‘The programme fails to elaborate on the changes in reporting of numbers, only briefly reporting that the Minister has referred to this in her defence.’
  • ‘The programme has singularly ignored all evidence that homelessness and living in cars was a significant problem in 2017, and has simplified the figures to promote a narrative that the figures has worsened between 2017 and 2022.’

The broadcaster’s response

[6]  TVNZ did not uphold the complaint, noting the data was provided by the Ministry of Social Development | Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora and the method through which the data was collected was explained (based on living locations at time of applying for emergency housing). These figures initially arose in Parliamentary questions and were later updated by MSD.2 TVNZ considered MSD a reputable source and therefore they should be entitled to rely on the accuracy of the provided data.

[7]  TVNZ also noted it broadcast a further report on 18 August focusing on children living in cars. That broadcast relied on similar data and acknowledged MSD has ‘apparently made improvements in the way it reports on people living in cars in the period since 2017.’

The standard

[8]  The purpose of the accuracy standard3 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.4 It states broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure news, current affairs or factual content is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead (give a wrong idea or impression of the facts). Where a material error of fact has occurred, broadcasters should correct it within a reasonable period after they have been put on notice.

Our analysis

[9]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[10]  As a starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. It is our role to weigh up the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.5 The broadcast in this case highlighted the significant and ongoing issue of homelessness in New Zealand. As such, it carried significant public interest and value. This must be taken into account in the assessment of whether any relevant harm was sufficient to outweigh the right to freedom of expression. 

[11]  Determination of a complaint under the accuracy standard occurs in two steps. The first step is to consider whether the programme was inaccurate or misleading. The second step is to consider whether reasonable efforts were made by the broadcaster to ensure the programme was accurate and did not mislead.

[12]  The standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or other points that are unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.6

[13]  The complainant considers the broadcast was misleading as:

  • The figures of people living in their cars were inaccurate.
  • The broadcast failed to elaborate on the changes in reporting of numbers, bar a brief mention by the Associate Housing Minister.
  • The broadcast suggested (or otherwise had the effect of suggesting) Labour Party policy was the cause of this problem.

[14]  We have reviewed the sources provided to us by both the complainant and broadcaster and note there is a lack of data regarding the number of people living in cars (as opposed to other counts of housing deprivation referred to in those sources and other reports).7 This supports an argument that the figure of 108 people living in their cars in 2017 is likely to be an estimate and/or unreliable.

[15]  However, it does not follow that the broadcast was materially inaccurate on this issue or would have misled viewers. We note:

  • The broadcast was clear regarding the source of the figures (from MSD) and the method of collection (recording where people were living when they applied for emergency housing).
  • It recognised the possibility that such statistics undercounted the reality of the situation
    (a)   The reporter noted the Minister responsible suggested the increase was due to ‘better reporting of numbers’ since 2017.
    (b)  An interviewee also expressed concern regarding possible undercounting in MSD statistics.
  • The reporter noted it was ‘not easy to quantify’ how many people lived in cars.

[16]  In the circumstances, any inaccuracy in the figures was unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole (which demonstrated a significant ongoing issue with homelessness/people living in cars despite the attention focused on this issue at the time of the 2017 election).

[17]  To the extent the complaint relates to a lack of detail around the changes in reporting of numbers over the relevant period, we consider it concerns a matter of personal preference (ie the complainant may have desired further information but its absence did not render the broadcast misleading or inaccurate when the existence of reporting changes had been signalled). As recognised in section 5(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, complaints based merely on a complainant’s preferences are not, in general, capable of being resolved by a complaints procedure.

[18]  With regard to the third alleged inaccuracy, we accept the programme suggested the issue had become ‘worse’ over the last 5 years and comment was included from the Leader of the Opposition that this represented a ‘failure’ of the Labour Government. However, the overall message of the programme, as outlined in paragraph [16], concerned the ongoing existence of the issue rather than a message that ‘Labour Party policy’ was necessarily the cause. In any event, we consider the comments about the situation being ‘worse’ and arguments from the Leader of the Opposition constitute comment or analysis regarding the ‘latest figures’ from MSD. The accuracy standard does not apply to comment or analysis unless it is misleading with regard to facts referred to or facts upon which it is based.8 As outlined above, we consider the data referred to, and upon which the comments were based, was clearly explained so no such issues arose.

[19]  For the above reasons, we consider the broadcast was materially accurate and any potential harm was insufficient to reach the threshold required to override the broadcaster’s freedom of expression in relation to a matter of significant public interest.

[20]  For completeness, we also note our view that it was reasonable for TVNZ to have relied on MSD’s data for this programme. MSD is a public service department, and the data was used to support a response to a Parliamentary question on this issue.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Susie Staley
22 November 2022    




The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1  Richard Brewster’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 1 August 2022

2  TVNZ’s decision on the complaint – 25 August 2022

3  Brewster’s referral to Authority – 11 September 2022

4  TVNZ’s response to referral – 12 September 2022

5  Brewster’s final comments – 13 September 2022

6  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 16 September 2022

1 Salvation Army “Kiwis Take to the Streets to Combat Homelessness” Scoop (28 September 2017); Mana Party “Homeless Still Helpless After Budget” Scoop (26 May 2017); Checkpoint “Cross party inquiry finds no doubt NZ has a homelessness crisis” RNZ (online ed, 10 October 2016); Auckland City Mission “An open letter to the new Government” Scoop (22 September 2017); Max Rashbrooke “No Place Like Home” New Zealand Geographic (online ed, 9 August 2016); The Nation “On The Nation: Housing Debate” Scoop (19 August 2017)
2 Question For Written Answer – 26549 (2022) (Chris Bishop and Megan Woods)
3 Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
4 Commentary, Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 16
5 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
6 Guideline 6.2
7 See, for example, “Living outside the norm: An analysis of people living in temporary and communal dwellings, 2013 Census” (2015) Statistics New Zealand | Tatauranga Aotearoa at 39 where private vehicles that are not designed as dwellings are included in the ‘living rough / improvised dwelling’. This data was later used in reports on the issue, such as Kate Amore “Severe housing deprivation in Aotearoa/New Zealand: 2001-2013” (2016) He Kainga Oranga/Housing & Health Research Programme, University of Otago, Wellington and Kate Amore, Helen Viggers and Philippa Howden Chapman “Severe housing deprivation in Aotearoa New Zealand, 2018: June 2021 update” (2021) Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington
8 Guideline 6.1