18 February 2022
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) Complaints Board has upheld 101 complaints about Voices for Freedom advertisements for misleading and socially irresponsible information about the COVID-19 pandemic.
The flyer advertisements from the group were distributed to homes across New Zealand.
The Complaints Board considered a total of 101 complaints in the published decisions. A further 97 complaints about the same advertising were received early this year.
The Complaints Board considered 56 complaints about two advertisements on masks. Complainants said they were misleading as it appeared the ASA was endorsing the Voices for Freedom statements. They were also concerned the flyers discouraged mask use, which wasn’t socially responsible.
Another flyer by the group related to safety around the children’s vaccine. The advertisement received 45 complaints, with concerns the group were cherry-picking information and undermining public health advice.
Voices for Freedom said claims in the advertisements were backed up by information on the group’s website, and that the ASA approval referenced a previous decision.
In the decisions released today, the Complaints Board said the advertisements were in breach of the Advertising Standards Code.
The ASA Complaints Board acknowledged the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 protection of freedom of expression but said the broad public health implications of the COVID-19 global pandemic at a population level provided a counterweight to the usual liberal assessment of advocacy advertising regarding social responsibility and truthful presentation.
ASA Chief Executive Hilary Souter confirmed neither the Complaints Board, nor the authority, endorsed or approved advertisements and this interpretation of a previous decision was misleading.
“There is rightly a high level of public interest about misinformation, and as an organisation we understand the important role we play in supporting the right to freedom of expression along with balancing the public health implications of a global pandemic and the impact of misinformation,” Souter said.
To view the full decisions, please click the below links: