BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Fenemor and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2023-080 (29 November 2023)

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


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint a 1 News item on fire dangers posed by lithium batteries was inaccurate for including footage of a vehicle which was not confirmed to have been affected by a lithium battery fire. The Authority found the alleged inaccuracy was not material and would not have significantly impacted viewers’ understanding of the broadcast as a whole.

Not Upheld: Accuracy

The broadcast

[1]  A segment on 1 News, broadcast on 5 August 2023, covered a scrap yard fire caused by a lithium battery, and discussed the rising dangers of fires due to a growing dependence on lithium batteries. The end of the report contained the following dialogue:

Lithium-ion batteries are a fire risk faced around the world. So with New Zealand expecting 84,000 EVs to come to the end of their life by 2030, the government is planning to regulate. But they may not be in place for another year yet.

[2]  While this section of dialogue played, footage was shown of a Tesla on fire being put out by a fire fighter; an electric scooter catching fire inside a building; a damaged Tesla on the back of a truck (on what appeared to be a bridge); and a person charging an electric vehicle.

The complaint

[3]  Graeme Fenemor complained that the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand on the basis ‘the news article showed footage of a white Tesla that was not a lithium battery fire, but a fire caused by a collapsed front wheel. This is inaccurate reporting.’ The complainant added ‘at no time has it been proved that the Tesla shown on the Auckland Harbour Bridge was a lithium fire’ and ‘a quick check with Fire and Emergency or with would confirm that NZ hasn’t had any confirmed Traction EV Battery fires during the period of coverage.’

[4]  He referred to TVNZ’s use of ‘an unconfirmed EV fire as an example of a Lithium Fire’ as ‘propaganda and misinformation’ citing international research (available on the website referred to above) which confirms it ‘is often not the case that it is a Lithium Traction Battery fire’.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  TVNZ did not uphold the complaint. It noted in relation to the shot of a Tesla which caught fire on Auckland Harbour Bridge, that the cause of the fire was unknown, but that it had been reported that the vehicle had large flames coming out of the hood and witnesses saw smoke coming out of the tyres.

[6]  TVNZ argued that the alleged absence of the incident in the international research cited by the complainant could not be taken as a definitive statement that the relevant incident was not a lithium battery fire.

[7]  TVNZ considered it appropriate to include this footage, given the discussion in the 1 News item at the stage the footage was shown concerned the fire risk of lithium batteries, and that risk included the propensity for fire-reigniting in the battery compartment and difficulties in putting them out (regardless of whether the battery caused the fire in the first place).

[8]  In the circumstances, TVNZ argued the footage was not misleading or material to viewers’ understanding of the item.

The standard

[9]  The purpose of the accuracy standard1 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.2 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. 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

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

[11]  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.3

[12]  The complainant is concerned the broadcast misled the audience as to the cause of the damage to the vehicle shown on the harbour bridge. The broadcaster has acknowledged the cause of the damage to the car featured on the bridge is unknown and cannot be definitively linked to a lithium battery concern.

[13]  The accuracy standard is concerned only with material inaccuracies. Technical or unimportant points that are unlikely to significantly affect viewers’ understanding of the programme as a whole are not considered material.4

[14]  Regardless of whether or not the depicted vehicle had been affected by a lithium battery fire, we do not consider inclusion of the footage constituted ‘misinformation’ or was material to the audience’s understanding of the broadcast as a whole. In coming to this finding, we note the following factors:

  • The footage was used as a visual background to the story, which also included multiple different images and footage of fires related to lithium batteries.
  • The broadcast made it clear the report’s focus was on the specific fire reported (the scrap yard fire caused by a lithium battery); and concerns about how New Zealand deals with the possibility of lithium battery fires as their use increases (in e-bikes, scooters and electric cars) and they eventually need to be recycled / disposed of.
  • The segment was not about the cause of damage to the car shown on the bridge. Nor was it about the specific risk of lithium battery fires in electric vehicles, or the number of lithium battery fires which have occurred in New Zealand.
  • The footage complained about was only shown for four seconds, out of a 2.18 minute report.
  • Most viewers would not have had time to properly observe the footage, or recognise that it was on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

[15]  For the above reasons, we find the accuracy standard was not breached.

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



Susie Staley
29 November 2023    



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

1  Graeme Fenemor’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 5 August 2023

2  TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 24 August 2023

3  Fenemor’s referral to the Authority – 24 August 2023

4  TVNZ’s further comments – 22 September 2023

5  Fenemor’s further comments – 5 October 2023

6  TVNZ confirming no further comment – 5 October 2023

1 Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
2 Commentary, Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 16
3 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
4 Guideline 6.2