BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Newman and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2022-130 (7 March 2023)

  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
  • Stephen Newman


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a Newshub Live at 6pm report regarding water fluoridation and the Three Waters proposal breached the balance, accuracy and fairness standards. While the issue of how to improve Aotearoa New Zealand’s fluoridation is a controversial issue of public importance, the report included major perspectives on this issue, including alternatives such as central government orders, imposition of penalties and better data collection, as well as the Three Waters proposal. On this basis the balance standard was not breached. The complainant’s submissions under the accuracy standard concerned analysis to which the standard does not apply. The fairness standard did not apply.

Not Upheld: Balance, Accuracy, Fairness

The broadcast

[1]  During the broadcast of Newshub Live at 6pm on 27 October 2022, an item discussed the low rates of fluoridation of water in Aotearoa New Zealand.

[2]  The broadcast interviewed multiple people on the topic, with the following relevant comments:

Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall:      It's not good enough. That's why we changed the law to allow central government to direct councils to fluoridate and set that they have to do so at an effective level.

Reporter:                  Councils are not currently required to fluoridate. Some are so small that it isn't feasible and there are a number of reasons why some councils don't reach the optimal level. Gisborne District Council says it will improve, but councils are on notice. 14 have been ordered to fluoridate within the next three years and a new monitoring regime will soon be in place, which will include penalties for local authorities that don't comply. 

Dr Verrall:                Up to $200,000 if the if the standard isn't met. 

Reporter:                  But experts say that's not enough. They want to see the Government collecting better drinking water data. 

Tim Chambers:       We need to implement a national database, to make the code of practice mandatory, and to ensure that oral health targets are part of the regulation. 

[3]  The reporter then had a short discussion with the hosts at the conclusion of the piece regarding how fluoridation would be affected by the Three Waters proposal:

Host:                         Will the Three Waters reform help with this fluoride problem?

Reporter:                  Well, under Three Waters there'll be four entities rather than 67 individual councils doing individual things. And that's expected to do away with these inconsistencies because it will result in more funding and more expert advice on things like fluoridation and how to get those levels right. Now, the dental association says this data is highlighting the major failings of councils to fluoridate properly and is a major reason why Three Waters is needed.

The complaint

[4]  Stephen Newman complained that the broadcast breached the balance, accuracy and fairness standards of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand for the following key reasons:

  • ‘The segment following the [fluoridation] and tooth decay report was propaganda supporting the current government policy of 3 Waters. The 'reporting' was that 3 Waters was the good and proper, and only, solution to the problem of non or incomplete fluoridisation by various councils. No other option was presented or discussed’
  • ‘…the content was drawn from one source, the current government policy, with no criticism or alternatives investigated.’

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) did not uphold Newman’s complaint for the following key reasons:


  • ‘…this was straightforward reporting and did not constitute any breach of standards. Fluoridation of water supplies and the Three Waters proposal are both issues that have been widely reported across a range of media. [WBD] is satisfied viewers could reasonably be expected to be aware of other perspectives than those presented in the Broadcast and that balance on these issues can be achieved within the period of interest, which is ongoing.’


  • The broadcast contained ‘commentary and analysis [that] were clearly identifiable and that the Broadcast did not contain any material errors of fact or significantly mislead the audience’


  • The complainant did not identify any individuals or organisations considered as being unfairly treated.

The standards

[6]  The balance standard1 ensures competing viewpoints about significant issues are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.2 The standard only applies to news, current affairs and factual programmes, which discuss a controversial issue of public importance.3

[7]  The purpose of the accuracy standard4 is to protect the public from being significantly misinformed.5 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.

[8]  The fairness standard6 protects the dignity and reputation of those featured in programmes.7 It ensures individuals and organisations taking part or referred to in broadcasts are dealt with justly and fairly and protected from unwarranted damage.

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.8

[11]  We consider that the complainant’s concerns are best addressed under the balance standard. The other standards raised are briefly discussed at the end of the decision.


[12]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to ‘news, current affairs and factual programmes’ which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue ‘of public importance’, it must be ‘controversial’, and it must be ‘discussed’.9

[13]  The Authority has typically defined an issue of public importance as something that would have a ‘significant potential impact on, or be of concern to, members of the New Zealand public’.10 A controversial issue is one which has topical currency and excites conflicting opinion or about which there has been ongoing public debate.11

[14]  This broadcast reported on low water fluoridation rates around New Zealand and the Government response to this. Fluoridation is a public health issue, and on this basis is of public importance to audiences. This issue is controversial as it relates to the failure of local government in a public health measure, which is likely to prompt a change in policy. The broadcast constituted a discussion of this issue, as while there was a straightforward report at the beginning of the piece, the report also contained the perspectives of multiple experts, the Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall, and a brief monologue by the reporter at the conclusion of the piece. On this basis, the balance standard applies.

[15]  The next step is to assess whether the broadcaster sufficiently presented significant viewpoints in the circumstances.12 We consider that this was achieved during the broadcast, considering the broadcast included the following responses to the issue of low water fluoridation:

  • Central government passing a law change to allow councils to be directed to fluoridate water, and imposing penalties of up to $200,000 if fluoridation standards are not met (Dr Verrall);
  • Implementation of a national database, creating a mandatory code of practice, and ensuring oral health targets are part of regulations (Tim Chambers, Otago University Public Health Scientist); and
  • The Three Waters proposal, as discussed by the reporter.

[16]  On this basis, we consider the broadcaster made reasonable efforts to present significant points of view in the programme, as the individuals interviewed adequately conveyed a range of perspectives on how the issue of low fluoridation rates could be dealt with. In any case, there is significant ongoing coverage of fluoridation13 and Three Waters,14 and audiences can be expected to be aware of the major perspectives on both.15

[17]  Accordingly, we do not uphold this complaint under the balance standard.

Remaining standards

[18]  Accuracy: The complainant has not identified any statements of fact in the broadcast they consider to be inaccurate. The complaint under this standard appears to be based on the broadcast suggesting Three Waters was the ‘good and proper’ and ‘only’ solution to the fluoridation issues. Noting the other solutions covered, as discussed above, we do not agree the broadcast carried such an implication or that viewers were likely to interpret it that way. In addition, we consider the broadcast’s comments regarding the merits of Three Waters constituted analysis, rather than statements of fact, to which the accuracy standard does not apply.16

[19]  Fairness: The complainant has not identified any individual or organization that they consider was unfairly treated in the broadcast. On this basis, the standard does not apply.

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


Susie Staley
7 March 2023




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

1  Stephen Newman's formal complaint to WBD - 27 October 2022

2  WBD's decision on complaint - 23 November 2022

3  Newman’s referral to the Authority - 23 November 2022

4  WBD confirming no further comments - 24 November 2022

5  Newman's further comments and article - 24 December 2022

1 Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
2 Commentary, Standard 5, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 14
3 Guideline 5.1
4 Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
5 Commentary, Standard 6, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 16
6 Standard 8, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
7 Commentary, Standard 8, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 20
8 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
9 Guideline 5.1
10 As above
11 As above
12 As above
13 Lois Williams “West Coast councils baulk at fluoride cost” Newsroom (online ed, 11 February 2022); Chris Tobin “Fluoridation of seven Timaru District water supplies in the pipeline” Stuff (online ed, 31 January 2023); Emma Houpt “Number of children’s teeth removed in Rotorua has more than halved over the past five years” Rotorua Daily Post (online ed, 24 January 2023); Matthew Rosenburg “Gisborne falling behind in water fluoridation” RNZ (online ed, 2 November 2022); Niva Chittock “Water fluoridation: Christchurch council tries to avoid 'expensive' process” RNZ (online ed, 15 August 2022)
14 Erin Gourley “Mayors split over whether water reform would have prevented fluoridation error” Stuff (online ed, 21 March 2022); Nikki Mandow “Three Waters, one undeniable upside” Newsroom (online ed, updated 8 August 2022); Amelia Wade “Chris Hipkins faces challenge of correcting co-governance narrative over Three Waters” Newshub (online ed, 3 February 2023)
15 Guideline 5.4