This section helps you understand the rules in the Electoral Act 1993 and the Broadcasting Act 1989 that apply to parties at a parliamentary election.
- Election advertisements must contain a promoter statement.
- Election advertisements (other than election programmes on television and radio) can be published at any time except on election day.
- Election programmes can only be broadcast on radio and television from writ day to the day before election day.
- Other people can only promote a candidate or party with their written authorisation.
- Campaigning on election day is a criminal offence.
- We'll update this information when key dates for the 2020 General Election are announced.
All election advertisements irrespective of when they are published, must include the name and address of the person that has initiated or instigated them ('the promoter'). [See section 204F of the Electoral Act]
The form of words recommended by the Electoral Commission is:
'[Promoted or Authorised] by [name], [relevant full street address]'.
Failing to include a promoter statement is an offence and subject to a fine of up to $40,000.
The requirement for a promoter statement applies to all forms of election advertising in any medium. If the election advertisement is published in a visual form, the promoter statement must be clearly displayed in the advertisement. If the election advertisement is published only in an audible form, the promoter statement must be no less audible than the other content of the advertisement.
Whether a promoter statement has been clearly displayed will need to be determined on a case by case basis taking into account the type of advertisement that is published.
In the Commission's view, this does not require that a person be able to read the promoter statement from where an election advertisement is intended to be viewed, for example on a billboard while driving. However, if a person inspects an election advertisement he or she should be able to read the promoter statement.
Where the website or webpage is an election advertisement, a promoter statement does not need to be included in each picture, article or entry on the site, provided the promoter statement is contained on the home page or the page that contains the election advertising.
The Commission advises parties to include a promoter statement on their party lapel badges as they may be considered to be an election advertisement.
Party and candidate election advertisements
Party advertisements promoted by the party need to include a promoter statement that features the party secretary's name and address.
The address can be the full street address of either the place where the party secretary usually lives or any other place where he or she can usually be contacted between the hours of 9am and 5pm on any working day.
You do not always have to be physically at this address during these hours but it must be an address from where you can be contacted within a reasonable period of time. A Post Office box or website address is insufficient.
As well as promoting the party, the party may promote one or more of its electorate candidates with the written authorisation of each candidate, but the costs then have to be apportioned between the party's election expense return and the candidate's expense return. [See sections 204G, 205EA and 206CC of the Electoral Act]
If a party promotes an advertisement that is both a party and a candidate advertisement, only one promoter statement is required. In this case, the party is the promoter and the advertisement will only need to include the name and address of the party secretary.
Similarly, electorate candidates may promote the party vote with the party secretary's written authorisation and disclosure in the party's expense return. Joint party and candidate advertisements promoted by the party's electorate candidates will also need to be disclosed in the candidate's expense return. Candidates are advised to consult the party secretary on the amount to be included in their return of candidate expenses. [See sections 204H, 205EA and 206CC of the Electoral Act]
Party advertisements promoted by a candidate must include the candidate's name and address in the promoter statement.
We advise candidates to stay in touch with the party secretary about advertising. This is because there can be issues between advertising by candidates and advertising by the party with consequential effects on the expenditure limits and expense returns of the candidate and the party.
Third party election advertisements
Third parties (persons or groups other than candidates and parties, or persons involved in the administration of the affairs of a candidate or party) can promote party advertisements but certain rules apply, including:
- a promoter statement must be included on all third party election advertising so that the public can see who is responsible for the advertisement
- where an election advertisement is promoted by a third party they will need to register as a promoter with the Commission if they spend more than $13,200 on election advertisements during the regulated period for the general election.
- advertisements promoting a party published by a third party must have the party secretary's written authorisation. An advertisement promoting the election of one or more candidates must be authorised by each of the candidates. Advertisements promoting both a candidate and a party must be authorised by both the party secretary and the candidate
- the costs of any third party advertisements published during the regulated period that the party secretary has authorised will count towards the party's election expenses and will need to be disclosed in the party's return of election expenses and donations as well as counting towards the third party's election expenses.
What is an election advertisement?
An election advertisement is an advertisement in any medium that may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to:
- vote, or not to vote, for an electorate candidate (whether or not the name of the candidate is stated)
- vote, or not to vote, for a party (whether or not the name of the party is stated)
- vote, or not to vote, for a type of candidate or party described by reference to views or positions that are, or are not, held or taken (whether or not the name of the candidate or party are stated). [See section 3A of the Electoral Act]
The Electoral Act does not define 'advertisement' but because the definition of 'election advertisement' covers an advertisement 'in any medium', the Commission considers the term 'advertisement' should be interpreted broadly. For example, it is not limited to traditional forms of advertising such as newspapers, posters, billboards, leaflets and radio and television broadcasting. It includes online advertising and can be paid or unpaid. The test is whether the advertisement can 'reasonably' be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote or not to vote, for a party or candidate or type of party or candidate.
This is an objective test to be determined considering the effect of the advertisement as a whole. The effect of the advertisement will depend not only on its content, but also on its style and apparent purpose, and factual context. To be an election advertisement, the advertisement need not include the name of a party or candidate, and the encouragement or persuasion to vote, or not to vote, can be direct or indirect.
The courts have said the assessment is to be made from the perspective of a reasonable observer, sensitive to the exceptionally high value of political speech in a democracy. (The Electoral Commission v Watson and Anor 2016)
Election advertisements that may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote, or not to vote for a party (whether or not the name of the party is stated) are called party advertisements.
Election advertisements that may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote, or not to vote for an electorate candidate (whether or not the name of the candidate is stated) are called candidate advertisements.
All requirements in respect of election advertisements apply to:
- election advertisements published in New Zealand even if the promoter is outside of New Zealand, and
- election advertisements published outside of New Zealand where the promoter is in New Zealand. [See section 3F of the Electoral Act]
Publish means to bring to the notice of a person in any manner, excluding addressing one or more persons face to face. [See section 3D of the Electoral Act]
Election advertisement exemptions
The legislation makes it clear that the following are not election advertisements:
- editorial content
- personal political views online
- a member of Parliament's contact details.
There is an exemption for the editorial content of a periodical, a radio or television programme, or news media internet site. The Electoral Act does not define 'editorial content' but the Commission's view is that it includes any part of the publication except advertising or advertorial. It can include opinion and editorial pieces written by others and reader contributions that the editor has chosen to publish.
A periodical is a newspaper, magazine, or journal established for purposes unrelated to the election, that has been published at regular intervals and is available to the public.
Personal political views online
There is an exemption for the publication of personal political views by an individual on the internet or other electronic medium, provided the individual does not make or receive payment for publishing those views. Individuals expressing personal political views on social media such as Facebook and Twitter are covered by this exemption and will not need to include a promoter statement.
This exemption does not extend to political views expressed on behalf of a party because the exemption is restricted to the publication of personal views by an individual.
Where an election advertisement posted on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media site is 'liked', 'shared', 'retweeted' or 'reblogged' by another person, it is the Commission's view that the individual content appearing elsewhere online will not require a promoter statement if it appears on those other pages as the expression of personal political views by an individual who does not make or receive payment in respect of the publication of those views.
MP contact details
There is also an exemption for the publication of contact information by MPs.
Further information for MPs is available in the Commission's publication MP Handbook – General Election 2017.
Requesting an advisory opinion from the Electoral Commission
We are very happy to provide guidance to parties. You can ask the Commission for advice on whether, in the Commission's opinion, an advertisement constitutes an 'election advertisement' under the law. The opinion of the Commission is not legally binding but reflects the Commission's interpretation of the law. A court of law may reach a different view and you may still wish to seek your own legal advice.
To request an advisory opinion, please provide a copy of the advertisement and any relevant background information about the context of the publication such as the details of when and how it is to be published and on what scale. Requests can be made by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will respond as soon as we can. We have a maximum target turnaround of 5 working days.
The Commission will treat the proposed advertisement, any supporting material, and the advice given to the requestor as confidential until the day after the date for the return of the writ for the election.
Advisory opinions will then be available on request, subject to the Official Information Act 1982. This does not prohibit the requestor from releasing the advice at any time.
If advertising includes a party logo, a promoter statement and authorisation from the party secretary may be required. This will depend on matters such as the context, size and relative prominence of the logo and whether in the circumstances the presence of the party logo means that the advertising can reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote for the party. [See section 3A of the Electoral Act]
For example, the presence of your party logo in an MP or candidate publication does not in itself make the publication a party advertisement if the size and relative prominence of the logo is consistent with the purpose of identifying the MP or candidate as an MP or candidate for the party and could not be seen as going beyond that.
Radio and television advertising
Both Part 6 of the Broadcasting Act and the Electoral Act govern how and when parties can use radio and television advertising in election campaigns as distinct from other forms of advertising.
Parties may broadcast on radio or television to advertise for the party vote, to attack another party or parties, or to promote or attack candidates. They may only do so within the period beginning with writ day until the day before election day.
Parties may only use funds allocated by the Commission to buy election broadcasting time - they cannot use their own funds for this purpose. Parties can, however, use their own money to pay for production costs (which then become an election expense).
Parties can use their broadcasting allocation to promote an electorate candidate. Before they do so they must have the written authorisation of the candidate. Once authorised, the cost of the broadcast or the portion of the broadcast that relates to the candidate will be an election expense for the candidate. The value of the broadcast will also be a donation by the party to the candidate.
A candidate election broadcast may only promote the candidate's own election. A candidate broadcast cannot feature more than one candidate. Although the party name and policies may be mentioned, an electorate candidate's advertisement must not encourage a party vote or promote the party list or attack other parties or candidates.
The costs of broadcasting election programmes paid for out of the broadcasting money allocated by the Commission are specifically excluded from the definition of party election expense and do not count towards the party's election expense limit.
All broadcasts of election advertisements must include a promoter statement.
Parties and candidates need to carefully consider whether any broadcasting that they undertake falls under the definition of 'election programme' for the purposes of the Broadcasting Act.
An 'election programme' is defined as “a programme that:
- encourages or persuades, or appears to encourage or persuade, voters to vote for a party or the election of a constituency candidate; or
- encourages or persuades, or appears to encourage or persuade, voters not to vote for a party or the election of a constituency candidate; or
- advocates support for a constituency candidate or for a party; or
- opposes a constituency candidate or a political party; or
- notifies meetings held or to be held in connection with an election.”
It includes “visual images, whether or not combined with sounds, that consist predominantly of alphanumeric text.”
The courts have held that the broadcast election programme rules only apply to broadcasts for political parties and candidates, not, for example, ads initiated by third parties or programmes selected by the broadcasters, e.g. editorial content, news, comment, current affairs, entertainment, documentaries etc. (The Electoral Commission v Watson & Anor 2016)
How can the broadcasting allocation be used?
|Type of advertising||Production costs||Placement costs||Timing||Election expenses|
|Radio and television advertising||Parties can use the broadcasting allocation, their own funds or a mixture of both for production costs.||Placement costs must be paid for out of the allocations.
Parties cannot spend their own funds on placement.
|Advertising promoting parties and candidates can only be broadcast during the election period.||Production and placement costs funded from the allocation are not party election expenses.
If parties use their own funds for any production costs these will be an expense.
If parties use the allocation to promote an electorate candidate, then the cost (or the portion of the advertisement relating to the candidate) is both a candidate expense and a donation by the party to the candidate.
|Internet advertising||The broadcasting allocation can only be used for production costs if the advertisement is published during the election period or both before and during the election period.||The allocation can only fund placement costs during the election period. Parties can spend their own funds for placement costs before and during the election period.||Advertising promoting parties and candidates can be published at any time online – but use of the allocation for production and placement costs online is restricted as indicated.||Production and placement costs funded from the allocation are not party election expenses.
If parties use their own funds for production and placement, and if published during the regulated period, these costs will be an election expense.
If parties use the allocation to promote a candidate, the cost (or the portion of the ad relating to the candidate) is both a candidate expense and a donation by the party to the candidate.
Registered parties had to apply to the Electoral Commission for consideration for an allocation of funds to spend on broadcast advertising. The allocation for the 2017 general election was $3,605,000 (plus GST).
The table above illustrates how the broadcasting allocation can be used.
There is no allocation for a by-election, nor directly to electorate candidates.
It is illegal for a party to spend its own funds to buy radio or television time to promote the party.
A party can spend its own funds on production costs within their election expenditure limit. The allocation can also be used to produce internet advertisements that are published both before and during 'the election period' and to place or promote internet advertisements during the election period.
An election broadcast or internet advertisement promoting an electorate candidate may be funded from a party's broadcasting allocation or the candidate's own campaign funds (within the candidate's $27,500 election expense limit).
Unregistered parties, and registered parties not allocated funds under Part 6 of the Broadcasting Act, may only use radio and television to promote their electorate candidates.
Press and other advertising
Advertising in forms other than radio or television can promote a party or their candidates or attack another party and their candidates.
Expenditure on press advertising and other forms of promotion such as signs are election expenses.
Canvassing and surveys
The rules relating to the requirement for a promoter statement and election expenses apply to election advertisements that are 'published'. However, the definition of publish expressly excludes addressing one or more persons face to face.
This means that face to face canvassing activities are exempt from the requirement for a promoter statement and do not need to be considered in terms of election expenses.
Whether telephone canvassing or surveys are election advertisements depends on their content.
The Electoral Act includes an express exemption for surveys and opinion polls from the definition of election expenses, but this does not mean everything published in a survey format will automatically be exempt, which is often a source of confusion. The courts have found that if a survey goes beyond merely eliciting voter's views and can reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote or not vote for an electorate candidate or political party (often referred to as push polling) then it will be an election advertisement.
If survey questions promote your party's policies or ask questions in a leading way and direct the answers, then the survey is likely to be an election advertisement and needs to comply with the election advertising rules.
We are happy to review a proposed script or survey and provide a view on whether or not it is an election advertisement, candidate advertisement and/or party advertisement.
Websites and social media
Where a website, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or other social media, is used by a candidate, party or third party to express party or third party political views, the exemption for personal political views does not apply.
To determine whether a website or social media page is an election advertisement, the Commission looks at the content of the site or page as a whole. A party website may be made up of several pages containing, for example, information about the party and its policies, how to join or donate to the party and candidate information. If a party website has content that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote for the party or its candidates the whole website will be an election advertisement.
The same approach is taken when considering social media. For example, whether or not a party's Facebook page is an election advertisement, the Commission looks at the Facebook page as a whole, including the content the party is responsible for publishing such as the party's posts and profile photos. Generally, where individuals post comments on a party's Facebook page the personal political views exemption is likely to apply to those posts.
Where the website or webpage is an election advertisement, a promoter statement does not need to be included in each picture, article or post on the site, provided the promoter statement is contained on the home page or the page that contains the election advertising.
On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube we recommend you include the promoter statement in the 'About' or profile section for your account or channel.
Where you pay for an election advertisement to appear unsolicited on another person's webpage, for example, a promoted post or banner advertisement on Facebook or Twitter, a promoter statement must be included on the advertisement itself. You cannot rely on a link back to another page which contains a promoter statement.
If there are a limited number of pixels or characters to include a promoter statement on the advertisement it is acceptable to abbreviate the promoter statement, for example 'Promoted by Anthony Secretary, 111 Any Street, Auckland' could be abbreviated to 'A Secretary, 111 Any St, AKLD'.
References to websites
If advertising contains a website reference, depending on how the website is being used in the advertisement, the content of the website may be considered in determining whether the advertisement is a candidate advertisement, party advertisement, or both, for the purposes of the Electoral Act.
For example, if the statement: 'Go to www .standupforanimals.com to find out more' is included in a print advertisement, both the content of the print advertisement and the website content would be taken into account.
Listing a website is fine, but if you use words or graphics that encourage readers to visit a website, the content of both the publicity and the website will need to be considered.
An advertisement 'relating to an election'
Even if an advertisement does not come within the definition of an 'election advertisement', it must still contain a promoter statement if it is 'advertising relating to an election' that is published in any newspaper, periodical, poster or flyer or broadcast on radio or television. [Section 221A of the Electoral Act]
For example, a poster promoted by a third party that encourages the public to vote or not to vote at the election or encourages people to enrol so they can vote in the election would not fulfil the definition of an election advertisement because there is no direct or indirect reference to a candidate or party or type of candidate or party. However, the advertisement will still need to have a promoter statement on it to comply with section 221A of the Electoral Act because it is 'election-related'.
Local authorities are responsible for regulating when, where, and how election signs can be displayed. You should consult with local authorities about their rules before putting up any election signs.
As the rules may vary between each local authority, the Electoral Act allows election signs up to three square metres in size to be put up from 9 weeks before election day for the general election. This provision overrides any more restrictive local authority rules about the size of signs and when they can go up, but it does not mean you can put your signs up from 9 weeks before election day wherever you want to. Local authority rules about the location and density of signs and any application procedures to put up electoral signs will still apply. Some local authorities may allow larger signs to be put up and for signs to be put up before it is 9 weeks form election day
Any queries or complaints about signs being up should be directed to the relevant local authority.
You must not pay an elector to display an electoral sign unless it is in the course of the elector's business.
It is an offence under the Electoral Act to display election signs on election day.
Treating is the giving or providing of food, drink, entertainment or provision to persons with the intention of corruptly influencing their vote and is a criminal offence. [See section 217 of the Electoral Act for a full description]
Section 217 is broadly phrased as to the period during which it applies: it covers actions “before, during, or after an election”.
The consequences of a conviction for treating are significant, including imprisonment, loss of a parliamentary seat or disqualification as a voter for three years.
Although the ambit is broad, the threshold for establishing treating is also high - a corrupt intention is required.
The courts have previously held that the offence of “treating” requires an intention on the part of the person treating to influence the votes of the persons treated.
The Electoral Act states that the provision of a light supper after an election meeting does not constitute the offence of treating. The provision of a cup of tea or coffee and a light snack after a campaign meeting, therefore is not treating.
There are very few court cases on the offence which makes it difficult to be definitive about what will constitute treating. However, in the Commission's view these are some of the factors that we believe are relevant considerations:
- the scale and commercial value of the food, drink, entertainment or other provision are relevant. In our view this is key, treating requires a corrupt intent and a likelihood of influence - it does not apply to ordinary hospitality that is incidental to a political meeting
- the target audience of the provision – providing food, drink, and entertainment at an AGM, campaign launch or annual party conference where the primary audience is party members is unlikely to be treating, but providing food, drink and entertainment at a public meeting carries more risk, and
- the extent to which the provision is accompanied by other political material.
In the Commission's view, to avoid complaints it is prudent for parties and candidates and their supporters to act cautiously and with restraint in providing food, drink – especially alcohol and entertainment as part of their political activities.
Any person who is concerned that what they are proposing could constitute treating can seek the view of the Commission on particular proposals and the Commission will provide its view.
The opinion of the Commission is not legally binding. A court of law may reach a different view and parties who have concerns may still wish to seek their own legal advice.
Campaigning near advance voting places
The restrictions that prevent electioneering on election day do not apply during the advance voting period. However, there are restrictions on campaigning inside, or within 10 metres, of an entrance to an advance voting place (“the buffer zone”).
The full list of prohibited activities is set out in section 197A of the Electoral Act which effectively prohibits anything that can be said to interfere with or influence voters, including processions, speeches or public statements in a buffer zone.
Signs, clothing and other campaign material featuring party or candidate names, emblems, slogans or logos cannot be displayed or handed out inside the advance voting place or anywhere within the buffer zone.
Returning Officers are authorised to remove or cover any advertising in breach of these rules and charge the costs to the people responsible for their display.
You, your supporters and scrutineers may wear a party lapel badge. A party lapel badge is a badge or rosette designed to be worn on the lapel and bearing the party's name, emblem, slogan or logo. Candidate names and party web addresses should not be included on a lapel badge.
Streamers, rosettes (other than those designed to be worn on the lapel), ribbons and similar items in party colours may be displayed in a buffer zones but only on people or vehicles and must not contain party names, emblems, slogans and logos or your name.
The rules about filming and photography in an advance voting place are the same as those on election day:
Complaints about election advertising
The rules in the Electoral Act and the Broadcasting Act impose procedural or timing requirements on publishers and broadcasters. The restriction on broadcasting election programmes outside the election period, and the requirement for all election advertising to contain a promoter statement are examples.
The legislation does not prescribe the substantive content of election advertisements, and election programmes, but publishers and broadcasters must comply with the relevant broadcasting standards or codes of practice.
The Electoral Commission is responsible for considering complaints about the breaches of election advertising rules and the election day rules under the Electoral Act and election programmes under Part 6 of the Broadcasting Act. The Commission has no prosecution or enforcement role. If the Commission believes an offence has been committed it must report the facts to the New Zealand Police.
For a limited number of Electoral Act offences the Commission does not have to report an offence if the offence is so inconsequential that there is no public interest in reporting those facts to the Police.
Complaints can be made in writing to email@example.com or by post to the Electoral Commission at PO Box 3220, Wellington.
Broadcasting Standards Authority
Election programmes on television and radio (which include party and candidate advertisements) come within the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA). Election programmes must comply with the Election Programme Code which is available on the BSA website.
Third party programmes about election matters must comply with the relevant broadcasting standards for radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV.
Complaints about an election programme under the Election Programme Code must be made directly to the BSA:
Broadcasting Standards Authority
PO Box 9213, Wellington 6141
Level 2, 119 Ghuznee Street
Tel: 04 382 9508
Fax: 04 382 9543
Website: www.bsa.govt.nz (including online complaint form)
Complaints about election-related broadcasting by broadcasters and third parties under the broadcasting standards must be made to the broadcaster in the first instance. If a complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of their complaint to the broadcaster, they are entitled to refer their complaint to the BSA for review.
For advice on the codes contact the BSA (telephone 0800 366 996 or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Advertising Standards Authority
The content of election advertising in all media other than election programmes on television and radio comes within the jurisdiction of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Advertising must comply with the ASA Codes of Practice.
The codes are available on the ASA website. See also the Advocacy Advertising Principles Guidance.
Complaints can be made directly to:
Advertising Standards Authority
PO Box 10 675, Wellington 6143
Ground Floor, 79 Boulcott Street, Wellington
Tel: 04 472 7852 or
0800 ADHELP (0800 234357)
The New Zealand Media Council is responsible for considering any complaints about the editorial content of a newspaper, magazine or periodical in circulation in New Zealand (including their websites) or digital sites, with news content, that have been accepted as a member of the Council.
Generally a person bringing a complaint against a publication must, unless exempted by the Executive Director of the Council, first lodge the complaint in writing with the editor of the publication.
If the complainant is not satisfied by the editor's response or receives no response from the editor within a period of 10 working days from the date on which the editor received the complaint, the complainant may then complain to the Media Council (online at www.mediacouncil.org.nz or PO Box 10 879, The Terrace, Wellington, 6143).
Complaints must be made in writing, preferably using the online form. Further information about the complaints procedure, time limits for bringing complaints, and a list of members of the Media Council are available at www.mediacouncil.org.nz.