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BSA research highlights public concerns over spread of misinformation

New Zealanders are worried a shift to online platforms is fuelling misinformation and making it harder to identify ‘the truth’, according to new research from the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

The finding comes as social media overtakes free-to-air TV as the country’s most-consumed media* in the BSA’s annual ‘litmus testing’ survey, which this year explored public views on accuracy and related BSA decisions.

Participants expressed doubts over the reliability of social media sources but were more trusting of organisations known for verifying sources when broadcasting information.

Accuracy is consistently the most complained-about of the broadcasting standards overseen by the BSA, whose role it is to decide on alleged breaches.

Accuracy complaints made up over half of those the Authority determined in 2020/21, driven by concerns over coverage of COVID-19 and elections in New Zealand and the US.

An average of 83% of survey participants agreed with five BSA accuracy decisions tested.**

Other key findings include:

  • The source of information is a key influence on perceptions of accuracy, with greater trust in media that check their sources than social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok.
  • Kiwis are concerned technology is hastening the spread of misinformation and reducing the ability to monitor or judge accuracy.
  • Access to multiple sources is seen as key when seeking accuracy, with many reluctant to accept something as fact without checking more than one source.
  • An evolution to more ‘opinion-based reporting’ and storytelling is causing some confusion among audiences. Some see this as prioritising audience engagement over presenting accurate information.
  • There is some tolerance for factual inaccuracy in certain contexts, eg reporting breaking news, but there is an expectation this would be cleared up in later broadcasts.

BSA Chair Susie Staley said: “New Zealanders are voicing their concerns over the proliferation of misinformation and the growing challenge they face in telling fact from fiction. The rise of less-trusted channels and ongoing misinformation over COVID-19 are bringing these worries into sharp relief.

“There appears to be a broad consensus across demographics around how we determine what is accurate broadcasting. There’s a general appreciation of the challenge to be met in balancing freedom of expression and the public interest against potential harm.

“The survey results offer some welcome assurance that the BSA is broadly getting it right and our decisions generally reflect community standards,” said Staley.

The survey findings will be used to inform future BSA decisions under the accuracy standard.

The full report is available at: Litmus Testing 2022.



* 73% of those surveyed had used social media in the previous week, followed by other online video (67%), free-to-air TV (64%), subscription TV (62%), radio (56%) and free-to-air TV viewed online (48%).

** BSA decisions tested and % rating the decision positively

APNA TV – False claims around COVID and other issues – 92%

The Project – Maps labelling Jordanian land as Israel – 90%

Mike Hosking Breakfast – Segment on COVID deaths in Italy – 84%

AM Show – Nature of COVID vaccine approval – 81%    

Kerre McIvor Mornings – COVID ‘almost certainly’ in the community – 70%

The BSA conducts litmus testing research annually to explore public attitudes to a given standard. The research was carried out for the BSA by Kantar Public. It included qualitative and quantitative methodologies with a spread of ethnicities, age, gender, income and household type. Kantar Public spoke to 580 people online. The maximum margin of error on this sample size is +/-4%. Fieldwork was conducted from 24 March to 5 April 2022.


The BSA is an independent Crown entity that oversees the broadcasting standards regime in New Zealand. The BSA determines complaints that broadcasts have breached standards, undertakes research and oversees the development of broadcasting standards in consultation with broadcasters.

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