BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Huriwai-Seger and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2023-105 (16 January 2024)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
  • Samah Huriwai-Seger


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a Newshub Live at 6pm item suggesting Labour’s Affordable Water Reform policy encompassed controls over all freshwater breached the accuracy standard. The Authority found the relevant references to freshwater were inaccurate. However, in the context of a story about Mayor Wayne Brown’s concerns for Auckland ratepayers and call to action for National, such detail regarding Labour’s policy was not material to the audience’s overall understanding of the item.

Not Upheld: Accuracy

The broadcast

[1]  During the 9 October 2023 broadcast of Newshub Live at 6pm, an item aired that discussed Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown’s concerns for the cost to Auckland ratepayers of required water infrastructure, and comments on the National Party’s water infrastructure policy.

[2]  The item was introduced as follows:

Host:       Auckland's mayor is ramping up his pressure on National to come up with a different replacement to Three Waters.

Host:       He's warning water bills could double in the next three years if they don't. But Christopher Luxon doesn't accept the plan will increase costs for households. Political reporter Amelia Wade has more.

[3]  The item included Brown’s perspective on National’s policy, including an interview with Brown where he discusses what he thinks needs to happen for water infrastructure, and the risk of Auckland’s water rates doubling:

Brown:    You can't just [repeal Labour’s policy] and think you've solved the problem. The problem is a balance sheet issue.

Reporter: Brown's warning if the water reforms are repealed without replacement, Aucklanders are going to have to pick up the tab.

Brown:    A doubling in their water rates over the next three years.

Luxon:    I disagree. That's not what we want to see. We do not want to see water bills doubling and we do not want to see an increase in rates.

Brown:    It's quite simple to fix. It just needs a government guarantee of increased debt. 

Luxon:    We will sit down with the Mayor after the election and actually work out how we make sure we deliver sustainable financing for their Three Waters assets. 

[4]  The item also contained a brief explainer of Labour’s Affordable Water Reform policy (formerly known as Three Waters), which included the following comments:

The latest iteration creates ten new entities with boards. Those will be appointed by groups which have a 50-50 split of council representatives and Māori. Those boards will run all the fresh water, wastewater and storm water around the country. The entities, because they're separate from councils, would be able to borrow more, more cheaply to fix the failing infrastructure.

[5]  While these comments aired, a graphic was shown with the following text:

Labour’s Water Reforms

Source: Labour Party

  • 10 entities
  • Appointed boards
  • Run freshwater, wastewater, stormwater
  • Borrow more, cheaper

The complaint

[6]  Samah Huriwai-Seger complained that the broadcast breached the accuracy standard of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand for the following reasons:

  • ‘[Appointed boards running all freshwater, wastewater, and urban stormwater around the country is] not what the reforms do. It's drinking water, wastewater and urban stormwater. It has nothing to do with freshwater, something that freshwater activists have been complaining about.’
  • ‘In fact, you're pushing a conspiracy theory that astroturfs like Hobson's Pledge, NZCPR and the Taxpayer union has popularised - that Māori will take control over the country's freshwater.’

[7]  On referral to the Authority, the complainant also raised the following arguments:

  • ‘The idea ‘that Māori will take control over the country's freshwater… has been one of the driving forces behind the racist anti co-governance narratives we've seen in recent years.’
  • ‘Newshub fed into this false and racist narrative by first stating that the boards "will be appointed by groups that have a 50/50 split of council representatives and Māori " and followed it up by saying the boards will control "ALL FRESHWATER".’
  • ‘I'm very concerned they would repeat this falsehood on 6pm news. When I pointed it out to them, they corrected it in the article. I'm not satisfied with this - many more people would have viewed the 6pm news in comparison to reading to the article. I would like them to state a correction in a similar format to their first news piece, i.e. on 6pm news.’

The broadcaster’s response

[8]  WBD assessed Huriwai-Seger’s complaint under the accuracy standard. The broadcaster did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

  • ‘The focus of the Broadcast was on pressure from Wayne Brown on the National party to deliver a replacement to Three Waters. In this context, while we acknowledge the Broadcast referred to freshwater instead of drinking water, the Committee maintains that the one reference to freshwater was not material but rather was a technical point that would not have affected viewers' understanding of the focus of the Broadcast overall.’
  • ‘The reference to freshwater was a genuine human error and we sincerely apologise for any concern it caused you. The associated Digital copy on, was amended to drinking water with a footnote explaining the change on 10 October.’

The standards

[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]  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 that the programme was accurate and did not mislead.

[13]  The 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]  The harm the complainant is concerned about is the broadcast misleading the public by claiming water reform proposed by the Labour government (which includes aspects of co-governance) involved all freshwater, when it did not. The complainant argues such harm is compounded by the existence of groups opposed to co-governance, who have also claimed the policy impacts freshwater generally.5 We note for context that Māori control over freshwater has been the subject of ongoing legal decisions and Waitangi Tribunal rulings, as discussed more extensively in one of our recent decisions.6

[15]  We accept it was inaccurate to state that boards established under the Labour policy would ‘run all the freshwater, wastewater and stormwater around the country’ and to depict this in the accompanying graphic. Legislation passed by the Labour government in accordance with their policy concerns ‘water supply networks’, ‘wastewater networks’ and ‘stormwater networks’.7 ‘Water supply networks’ is defined as drinking water supply, firefighting water supplies and small mixed-use rural supplies.8 This definition does not encapsulate ‘all freshwater’ and we note the Labour Party has promoted the policy as addressing ‘drinking water’ (rather than all freshwater).9

[16]  We also acknowledge the importance of accurate reporting on items which involve discussion of co-governance, to prevent the spread of misinformation or disinformation to the public. However, the question for the Authority is whether this inaccuracy was material in the context of the particular story.

[17]  In our assessment of this issue we have taken into account the following relevant contextual factors:

  • The broadcast was pre-recorded.
  • The item was focused on:
    • Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown’s request to National to come up with a better policy around water infrastructure.
    • Concerns regarding Auckland's currently failing infrastructure, the level of infrastructure costs anticipated to address it and the quantum of costs to be worn by ratepayers if appropriate Government support is not in place.
  • The item included brief explainers of both Labour’s Affordable Water Reform policy and National’s proposed water reform policies.
  • It also included Luxon stating that National would sit down with the Mayor after the election to work out how to deliver sustainable financing for Auckland’s water assets.

[18]  In this context, the brief inaccuracy in summarising Labour’s water policy would not have materially misled the audience.

[19]  The item was not focused on Labour’s policy or what it entailed. The summary of Labour’s policy was only included as a ‘reminder’ and by way of contrast to National’s policy (which was also briefly summarised). The focus of the item was the public interaction between the Mayor of Auckland and the National party in regard to water policy. On this basis, the error in describing Labour’s policy amounted to a technical inaccuracy that would not have materially impacted the audience’s understanding of the item overall.

[20]  Further, while the broadcaster did not uphold the complaint, it acknowledged the inaccuracy and corrected it in the online article of the story.10 While the original video (with the incorrect comments and graphic) remains accessible through the online article, this correction would go some way to mitigating any further harm arising from the error.

[21]  Having found the programme was not materially misleading, it is not necessary to determine whether or not the broadcaster has made reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy of the programme.11 For the above reasons, we consider the error did not create harm at a level justifying our intervention and the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

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



Susie Staley
16 January 2024  



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

1  Samah Huriwai-Seger's initial complaint - 10 October 2023

2  WBD's response to the complaint - 25 October 2023

3  Huriwai-Seger's referral to the Authority - 31 October 2023

4  WBD confirming no further comments - 30 November 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
5 See for example Hobson’s Pledge “Three Waters = tribal control over fresh water” (accessed 7 December 2023); Dr Muriel Newman “Time to Oppose Three Waters” New Zealand Centre for Political Research (17 June 2022); Dr Muriel Newman “Labour Delivers Control of Fresh Water to Maori” New Zealand Centre for Political Research (21 April 2023)
6 Hayes and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2023-057 at [10]-[13]
7 Water Services Entities Act 2022, s 6 “water services infrastructure”
8 Water Services Entities Act 2022, s 6 “water supply”
9 Labour Party “Safe, affordable and locally led water” (accessed 8 December 2023)
10 Amelia Wade “Election 2023: Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown ramps up pressure on National to deliver different replacement to Three Waters” Newshub (online ed, 9 October 2023)
11 Van der Merwe and Mediaworks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2019-015 at [21]