A New Zealand anti-vaccination group has lost its appeal against a ruling earlier this year which saw some of its billboards taken down.

Voices for Freedom, a well-funded far-right organisation led by a food blogger and two knitting/crochet designers, was told in May to remove its advert disputing statements about COVID-19 by health officials and a prominent microbiologist.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, then-Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles had all, at some point, called the spread of the virus a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”. 

As a recent study showed (yet again), vaccines against COVID-19 work – they’re not perfect, but they drastically reduce the likelihood of severe illness or death in those who contract the virus. New Zealand’s figures through the Omicron wave have proven that.

In May, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld four complaints about a Voices for Freedom billboard showing Wiles, Hipkins and Bloomfield, the phrase “A pandemic of the unvaccinated” and “Yeah, nah” (for overseas readers, that’s New Zealand slang for “no”). 

Complainants called it “misinformation on a gigantic scale”, “a cheap shot at three dedicated public servants” and “promoting fake news”. 

The ASA said it was not socially responsible, misrepresenting the experts’ views.

Voices for Freedom appealed the decision, saying it is “important in a democratic society which claims to uphold the rule of law, and rights to freedom of speech, that billboards like those of the advertiser be seen and heard”. 

The ASA said yeah, nah, and reiterated its original finding – that the billboard was socially irresponsible, and breached advertising codes. The decision was released this week.

Voices for Freedom, which has repeatedly spread false information about COVID-19 vaccines through the pandemic, and was part of the Wellington riots earlier this year, has had more than 100 complaints about its rubbish upheld. 

More than half of complaints about COVID-19 misinformation submitted to a government agency earlier this year were about Voices for Freedom.