A rundown of decisions from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) shows the National Party and Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman both faced complaints in regard to Facebook ads featuring media stories.

Neither of the complaints were upheld.

Complainant S. Ahluwalia took exception to the National Party's use of a quote from a Forbes magazine opinion piece, which suggested the country was likely to experience a recession during Jacinda Ardern's tenure as Prime Minister.

The post read:


'"It seems likely that New Zealand will experience a recession during Ardern's term … [and] will probably lose its status as one of the most open, free economies in the world." - Forbes business magazine.'

Ahluwalia said posting this on Facebook was misleading, gave undue credibility to an opinion piece and played on fears.

The complainant said the advertisement created the impression that the opinion expressed was endorsed by a reputable publication when the Forbes website clearly stipulates the opinions of the author do not represent the views of the magazine.

The National Party responded, saying it was a direct quote from an article and it was clearly presented as an advocacy advertisement from the National Party Facebook page.

"The article appeared in Forbes Magazine and there are no statements in the post that do not come directly from the article," the National Party said in response.

"The headline was taken directly from the article and the quotes that follow are what we believe in our opinion are important extracts from the story."

The ASA board decided in favour of the National Party, saying the quote itself was unlikely to mislead readers and did not play on fear, as the source was clearly identifiable and a link to the article was also included.

The ASA further found the advertisement was not in breach of any ethical codes and it had been prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and society.

In a similar vein to the National Party, Green MP Ghahraman also faced a complaint about the use of an editorial piece published on the website of a reputable media company.

In this case, B. Theobald raised a complaint in regard to Ghahraman's use of Al Jazeera's video titled '9 inspiring women who crushed it in 2017'.

Inspiring Women of 2017

Here are 9 inspiring women who crushed it in 2017.

Posted by AJ+ on Friday, 29 December 2017

The complainant questioned the accuracy of the video, in that it refers to Ghahraman as having spent her career defending vulnerable communities.

"This is misleading to the public, as she has not been representing communities, as the Green Party would have people believe. Instead, she has been representing several war criminals that have victimised vulnerable communities; which is the opposite of what the claim is asserting," the complainant said.

This view was mirrored by a second complainant, J. Clark, who also argued the advertisement was inaccurate.

The ASA chair ruled there were no grounds to proceed in this instance.

The ASA said it had no jurisdiction over the video as this was editorial content and did not qualify as an advertisement.

However, the words posted by Ghahraman alongside the video did fall into the category of an advertisement.

In coming to the decision, the ASA referenced the National Party decision, saying it had set a precedent for these types of advertisements.

"The Complaints Board was of the view that it was not deceptive to attribute the quote to Forbes business magazine when it was an opinion piece, because Forbes magazine had made the editorial decision to publish it," said the complaints board in the earlier decision.

In shifting the discussion to the publisher's decision to publish, the ASA places the onus on media companies to ensure the accuracy of what they publish.

However, opinion pieces aren't news stories and they often fall into a grey area, where facts and personal opinions can be conflated.

The Press Council allows for the freedom of expression of thought, which in turn means articles based on what could be highly partisan opinion could be presented as the views of a publication rather than those of an individual. This gives those views added weight, particularly when a publication has built its reputation on the distribution of accurate information.

If these opinions are simply tagged with the name of the publication rather than the name of the author, it could create confusion - and this is particularly pertinent in the context of elections.

The impact of this was evident during the Brexit referendum, which media analysts argue was won on the back of fake news stories distributed via Facebook.

Fake news is worrying enough for a democracy, but what about legitimate opinion pieces dressed as an endorsement for a politician from a reputable publication?

In setting this precedent, the ASA has created the possibility that we might need to be more worried about real, rather than fake news, come the next election.