TV3 consumer affairs programme Target has been ordered to pay nearly $40,000 after it wrongly accused an Auckland cafe of selling food with a high faecal coliform reading.

In an episode on June 16 last year, Target showed an undercover camera segment looking at the hygiene standards of several Auckland cafes.

Food was bought from the cafes and then samples sent for laboratory testing, one of which came back with a high reading of faecal coliform. The show attributed that sample to Ponsonby-based Cafe Cezanne.

Target wrote to Cafe Cezanne's owners telling them a chicken sandwich from their cafe had tested positive for faecal coliforms. However, the letter contained incorrect information about the date of purchase.

The owners questioned whether the sample was from their cafe but Target went ahead with the broadcast.

The programme was forced to apologise the following week after it found a mistake had been made in labelling the samples, and the show broadcast a statement saying: "Due to a human error by a former Target staff member coding the results, we cannot confirm which cafe produced this high faecal coliform count".

Cafe Cezanne complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) that the original item and the apology were inaccurate and unfair. They said the apology had not stated that the sample had been wrongly attributed to Cafe Cezanne.

In response, TV3 said it accepted the initial programme had been inaccurate and unfair but that "the prompt and appropriate nature of the correcting statement and apology" meant there had been no ongoing breach of broadcasting standards.

However, in a decision released today, the BSA said it had found Target was in possession of two documents, which unequivocally exonerated the cafe, before the apology.

The documents showed the contaminated sample was collected and delivered to the laboratory on a different day from the sample from Cafe Cezanne, and it was therefore clear the contaminated sample definitely did not come from Cafe Cezanne.

"As a consumer affairs programme that holds others to account, Target has the power to seriously damage the reputations of the businesses and individuals that it puts under the microscope," the BSA said in its decision.

"A damaging report of a small business was broadcast not only as a result of a significant breakdown in Target's processes but also because the producers of the programme apparently refused to properly consider information supplied by the complainants in the days immediately prior to the broadcast.

"Even a cursory examination of the information available to the production company would have highlighted that something was seriously wrong."

The BSA said "significant harm" had been caused to the cafe's reputation.

TV3 broadcaster TVWorks was fined $5000 for the incorrect allegation and another $5000 for the apology, which it said did not unequivocally clear the cafe.

It was also ordered to pay the cafe owners' full legal costs of $28,068.75, and to broadcast an apology and summary of the BSA's decision on Target.

As well, it must publicise the decision on radio stations and in a newspaper advertisement.