Complaints about the government’s TV ads on Three Water Reform have described them as misinformation, false and a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign.
The government is proposing to merge municipal drinking water supply, waste management and stormwater infrastructure and services into four regional bodies.
The $3.5 million ad campaign, which began in June 2021, depicts disgruntled cartoon characters and animals with poor water quality.
A voiceover says the government is working to ensure Kiwis can continue to drink straight from the tap: “Imagine Aotearoa without good water. That would be rude, huh? happen for real. So now, instead of them having to shoulder that burden, we’re grouping them together, to keep everyone on the path to better water around. So our trouts will be happy, underwear can still be togs, and best of all, we Kiwis can keep drinking straight from the tap, so what do you think? Better water is better for everyone.
In another version, the voiceover describes what “it would be a stinky place”, how the showers would be a complete waste of time, and the awa (rivers) would be “all dirty with mud”. The animation included green liquid from a “cough” pipe, with a thermometer in the mouth.
A complainant said it “crossed the line of a propaganda campaign spreading false truths”.
Another described it as “alarmist and full of misinformation. I find that very offensive. The government will use the water resources it has essentially stolen from the taxpayer, to raise a $160 billion loan, doubling our national debt.”
“The ad suggests that the only way to have safe water and safe drinking water is through this melting process,” wrote another complainant. “It appears that the announcement is intended to ensure that the public pressures councils to take this action, but no balancing information is provided. The announcement appears to me to be irresponsible, misleading and inappropriate use taxpayer funds.”
Some viewers took issue with the voice-over depiction of the government working with the councils so that they did not have to ‘bear the burden’ of providing clean water.
“Ads are childish,” said one. “He states that he will ease the burden of advice and implies that the environment will be better with swimmable rivers and better drinking water. He is referring to a trout. I am a district councilor and find these advertisements misleading and essentially false.”
“This ad is very misleading, and I consider it little more than propaganda,” said another. “The ad states that they are working with councils, which is a blatant lie. The fact is that Three Waters has not yet been fully set up or instituted. If it’s not active, how can- Do they work with water improvement councils? The answer is they can’t, and the councils I interviewed confirmed that.”
The Advertising Standards Authority ruled in the context of advocacy advertising, that it was not misleading or offensive.
A total of 48 complaints were filed about the ads.
“Truthful and balanced” campaign – government
The government has said its aim is to build support for the Three Waters reform.
“The department is satisfied that our campaign is truthful, balanced and not misleading and that it complies with all aspects of the Code of Advertising Standards,” said a spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs.
“Regarding the cost of the campaign, and based on our creative agency’s current statement of work which calls for the public outreach and education campaign to continue through the end of 2021 , the total cost of the campaign across all media channels and platforms is expected to be $3.5 million.”
Another $500,000 has been set aside for the development, management and hosting of its website.
His statement highlighted the Cabinet decision on publicity, which was intended to provide “a national image of the case for change and to broaden support for reform”.
The councils and iwi have provided comments to Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta and a final report from officials is expected in the coming weeks, after which Cabinet will consider next steps, including a public consultation process.