The water at the Blue Pools in Haast does have export quality, alpine water - but the video doesn't say where this was shot. Photo; YouTube still

The Advertising Standards Authority complaints board has produced a split decision on whether a Tourism New Zealand YouTube advertisement portrayed an unsafe practice: drinking river water. 

Two complaints were received over the ad, both of them along the lines that the video insinuated water was safe to drink when it showed a woman cupping river water in her hands and lifting it to her face. K Sutherland said it was completely misleading and dangerous given 61 percent of monitored waterways in New Zealand are unsafe for swimming, let along drinking.

“The social responsibility of TNZ is to be honest with tourists both within New Zealand and overseas about the dangers of drinking river water,” the complaint stated. 

The video was shot at the Blue Pools in Haast, which does have export quality, alpine water – but the location wasn’t labelled.

Tourism NZ argued that the woman wasn’t actually shown drinking the water before the scene cut away, and the transition from scene to scene was to communicate the ease of which visitors could go from place to place, and experience to experience. 

That appeared to get TNZ off the hook with the majority of the board, which said the advertisement was “an aspirational view of New Zealand, depicting experiences that were still possible in this country. The advertisement did not claim that all rivers in New Zealand were safe to drink from and therefore was not misleading and did not encourage unsafe practices.” 

A minority of the board disagreed, but the complaints were not upheld. 

The complaints and divided nature of the response are a reflection of more New Zealanders becoming concerned about the quality of their water. The Executive Director of the Environmental Defence Society, Gary Taylor, believes it is the third-biggest election issue after housing and inequality. 

“It’s certainly misleading to create the impression that you can safely drink water from rivers in rural New Zealand – or urban New Zealand,” he says. “The e-coli count would be high and you are likely to get sick if you did that – not everywhere but in many places.

“I think concern about the state of fresh water has been the biggest environmental issue in the election campaign this election.” Taylor says he hasn’t seen such a hot topic since the logging of native forests in the 1980s. 

“It’s certainly not safe to drink water from rivers,” he says. “That’s the bottom line.” 

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