DATE OF MEETING 15 August 2016
OUTCOME No Grounds to Proceed



Advertisement:    The television advertisement for Fluoride Free NZ showed a fertiliser factory with smoke billowing from its chimneys and stated, in part: “hydroflurosilicic acid – commonly known as fluoride – is a waste product collected from the chimneys of the fertiliser industry. This fluoride chemical also contains traces of lead, aluminum, mercury arsenic and sometimes uranium. It is banned from being released into the air, sea, lakes and rivers because it is toxic to animals and the environment.”

The advertisement showed a person in a hazmat suit holding a blue barrel and said, in part “ratepayers Monday buys this toxic chemical handled by workers wearing hazmat suits like this. This fluoride is what goes into our drinking water. Find out the facts. Visit”


The Chair ruled there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed.


COMPLAINANT 1, said: “An ad advocating elimination of fluoride in drinking water was shown. The add is scientifically wrong or misleading on almost every count. Freedom of speech is one of thig but this add is like the American political adds where truth is subservient to the views bring pushed. Adds like this (advocating rather than selling something) should be required to pass some minimum standard of scientific scrutiny. Perhaps the government scientist?”

The relevant provisions were Basic Principle 4 and Rules 2 and 11 of the Code of Ethics.

The Chair acknowledged the view of the Complainant the advertisement about water fluoridation was factually inaccurate.

The Chair said the advertisement, which was for Fluoride Free NZ, was by definition an advocacy advertisement. The Chair then took into consideration Rule 11 of the Code of Ethics which said:

Advocacy Advertising – Expression of opinion in advocacy advertising is an essential and desirable part of the functioning of a democratic society. Therefore such opinions may be robust. However, opinion should be clearly distinguishable from factual information. The identity of an advertiser in matters of public interest or political issue should be clear.”

She also referred to the Advocacy Principles pursuant to Rule 11, which had been developed by the Complaints Board. These said:

  1. That Section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, in granting the right of freedom of expression, allows advertisers to impart information and opinions but that in exercising that right what was factual information and what was opinion, should be clearly distinguishable.
  2. That the right of freedom of expression as stated in Section 14 is not absolute as there could be an infringement of other people’s rights. Care should be taken to ensure that this does not occur.
  3. That the Codes fetter the right granted by Section 14 to ensure there is fair play between all parties on controversial issues. Therefore in advocacy advertising and particularly on political matters the spirit of the Code is more important than technical breaches. People have the right to express their views and this right should not be unduly or unreasonably restricted by Rules.
  4. That robust debate in a democratic society is to be encouraged by the media and advertiser and that the Codes should be interpreted liberally to ensure fair play by the contestants.
  5. That it is essential in all advocacy advertisements that the identity of the advertiser is clear.”


Turning to the advertisement before her, the Chair confirmed that the identity of the Advertiser was clear and viewers were invited to go the website which had more information. Therefore, the Chair said the advertisement fulfilled the identification requirement in Rule 11.


The Chair turned to a previous Ruling about the same advertising about misleading claims.


That Ruling (16/272) stated, in part:


“The Chair also considered previous decisions in relation to Fluoride Free NZ and in particular precedent (15/389 Appeal 15/020) which stated:


“As part of a broad review of the application of the advocacy principles to this type of advertising, the Appeal Board confirmed the spirit of the Code was more important than technical breaches. In particular, where there is clear information identifying an advertisement, the name of the Advertiser and their position in the debate – a liberal interpretation to Code compliance will be made.


The Appeal Board emphasised the existence of contradictory evidence – even if that evidence was against the view of the consensus – did not mean the advertisement was misleading as it was the right of Advertisers in a democratic society to interpret and impart its own opinions under Rule 11.”


In regard to the Complainant’s concerns about factual inaccuracies in the advertisement, the Chair said the above Decisions applied. The Chair confirmed that as long as the identity and position of the Advertiser was clear in matters where there were strong differing opinions supported by factual information, an advertisement was unlikely to reach the threshold to mislead consumers.


The Chair noted the advertisement presented information from a particular perspective, encouraging people to visit the Advertiser’s website to find out more information.


The Chair acknowledged the Complainant’s view that advertisements of this nature should be required to pass scientific scrutiny, perhaps from the Government scientist. There is however no legal requirement for advertisements to pass such scrutiny and individuals and organisations are entitled to promote their views responsibly.


In conclusion, the Chair said when the advertisement was considered in its entirety in this context, it was clearly an advocacy advertisement presented from a particular perspective and was unlikely to mislead consumers. She ruled the advertisement was not in breach of Rules 2 or 11 of the Code of Ethics and had been prepared with a due sense of social responsibility, required by Basic Principle 4 of the Code of Ethics.




Chair’s Ruling: Complaint No Grounds to Proceed