Media Handbook for the 2020 General Election

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This section explains the rules parties, candidates, and third parties must follow for election and referendum advertising.

Make sure each advertisement follows the relevant rules before you publish or broadcast it. If you don’t follow the rules as the publisher or broadcaster, you’ll also be responsible for breaking the law.

Remember – if you’re publishing an election or referendum advertisement, it needs a promoter statement. If it promotes another party or candidate, it also needs their authorisation. Ask us for advice if you’re not sure.

Some extra rules apply for advertising on TV and radio.

What are election and referendum advertisements?

An election advertisement is an advertisement that may reasonably be regarded as  encouraging or persuading voters to vote or not vote for a:

  • candidate
  • party
  • type of candidate or party the advertisement describes by referencing views they do or don’t hold.

Election advertisements about electorate candidates are called candidate advertisements, and election advertisements about parties are called party advertisements.

A referendum advertisement is an advertisement that may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote or not vote in a particular way in a referendum.

Whether an advertisement encourages or persuades voters depends on its effect as a whole

An advertisement doesn’t have to include a candidate or party’s name to be an election advertisement.

Similarly, it doesn’t have to include the referendum question to be a referendum advertisement.

An advertisement’s encouragement or persuasion can be direct or indirect. Whether an advertisement encourages or persuades voters depends on its:

  • content
  • style
  • apparent purpose
  • factual context
  • effect as a whole.

We must assess whether something is an election advertisement from the perspective of a reasonable observer, recognising the importance and value of political speech in a democracy (The Electoral Commission v Watson & Anor 2016).

Election and referendum advertisements can be in any medium

Election and referendum advertisements can be in any medium, such as:

  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • posters
  • billboards
  • leaflets
  • TV and radio broadcasting
  • online advertising.

Unpaid advertising can still be an election or referendum advertisement.

There are exceptions to election and referendum advertisement rules

The following don’t count as election or referendum advertisements:

  • Editorial content
  • Personal political views online
  • An MP’s contact details

Editorial content is any part of a publication except advertising or advertorials

Editorial content in periodicals, radio or TV programmes, and on news media websites are not election or referendum advertisements.

Editorial content includes any part of the publication except advertising, advertorial or sponsored content. It can include opinion and editorial pieces that others write, and contributions from readers the editor has chosen to publish.

A periodical is a newspaper, magazine or journal that:

  • was established for reasons unrelated to the election
  • is published regularly
  • is available to the public.

A periodical can be digital or printed.

Personal political views online aren’t advertising if they’re unpaid

An individual publishing their personal political views on the internet or other electronic medium doesn’t count as election or referendum advertising. This exemption covers people posting on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

This exemption doesn’t cover:

  • any paid content
  • anyone expressing the political views on behalf of a group, organisation or political party.

MP contact details

There’s also an exemption for MPs publishing their contact information. You can find out more about this exemption in our MP handbook.

Election and referendum rules apply to advertisements published in New Zealand or overseas

The rules apply to referendum advertisements or election advertisements published either:

  • in New Zealand, even if the promoter is outside New Zealand
  • outside New Zealand, only if the promoter is in New Zealand.

Publish means to bring to a person’s attention in any way, except for talking to the person face to face.

Linking to a website can make an advertisement election or referendum advertising

If advertising refers to a website, the content of the website may help decide whether the advertising is:

  • an election or referendum advertisement
  • a party advertisement, a candidate advertisement or both.

Listing a website is fine, but if the advertisement uses words or graphics to encourage readers to visit a website, consider the content of both the advertisement and the website.

For example, if a print advertisement encourages readers to visit a website, and the website encourages them to vote for a candidate, the print advertisement is an election advertisement.

You can get an advisory opinion on whether an advertisement is an election advertisement, a referendum advertisement or both

You can ask us for our opinion on whether an advertisement counts as an election advertisement, a referendum advertisement or both. We don’t charge a fee for this.

Our advisory opinions are not legal advice

Our opinions are our interpretation of the Electoral Act and Referendums Framework Act. They're not legally binding or legal advice, and a court of law may reach a different opinion. You may want to get your own legal advice before you publish or broadcast an advertisement.

Send us your request by email

To request an advisory opinion, please send us a copy of the advertisement and tell us:

  • who the advertisement is from
  • how you'll publish it
  • when you'll publish it
  • how widely you’ll publish it.

Send us your request by email:
Email advisory@elections.govt.nz

We'll send you an advisory opinion as soon as we can

Once we get your request, we'll respond with an advisory opinion as soon as we can. We'll aim to respond within 5 working days.

We’ll keep your request confidential until the election is overWe'll treat your request and our advice as confidential until the relevant election cycle ends. After that, we'll make our opinions available if someone asks for them, subject to the Official Information Act.

You can publicly release the advice we give you at any time, if you want to.

Only publish an election or referendum advertisement if it has a promoter statement

All election and referendum advertisements must include a promoter statement. This applies at all times, not just during the regulated period. A promoter statement shows the name and address of the person promoting the advertisement.

We recommend the following wording for promoter statements:

Promoted or authorised by [promoter’s name], [promoter’s full street address].

What a promoter statement should include depends on who is promoting the advertisement

The name and address that needs to be in a promoter statement depends on whether the promoter is a party, a candidate or a third party.

Party advertisements

Advertisements that a party promotes need to include the party secretary’s name and address.

If a party promotes an advertisement that’s both a party and a candidate advertisement, it only needs one promoter statement. Since a party is the promoter, the promoter statement needs to include the party secretary’s name and address.

Candidate advertisements

Advertisements that electorate candidates promote need to include the candidate’s name and address.

The address can be the candidates full street address of either:

  • the place where they usually live
  • any other place where usually someone can contact them between 9am and 5pm on any working day.

If a candidate promotes an advertisement that’s both a candidate and a party advertisement, it only needs one promoter statement. Since a candidate is the promoter, the promoter statement needs to include the candidate’s name and address.

Third party advertisements

Anyone who puts out advertising about a candidate, party or election issue, but isn’t a candidate or party themselves, is a third party promoter. Third party promoters can be registered or unregistered.

Advertisements promoted by registered third party promoters need to include the name and address shown on the Register of Registered Promoters.

If an unregistered third party promoter is an organisation, their promoter statements must also include both the:

  • name of a member of the organisation who has the authority to represent it
  • full street address of the organisation’s main place of business.

For example:

Promoted or authorised by [representative’s full name], [promoter’s name], [promoter’s full street address].

If an unregistered third party promoter is an individual, they can use the full street address of either:

  • the place where they usually live
  • any other place where usually someone can contact them between 9am and 5pm on any working day.

Promoters can’t use a post office box or website address in a promoter statement.

Promoter statements must be easy to see or hear

All election and referendum advertisements must clearly display their promoter statements.

In our view, this doesn’t mean someone should be able to read the promoter statement from where you mean them to see the advertisement. For example, people don’t need to be able to read the promoter statement on a billboard while they’re driving past it. A person should be able to read the promoter statement if they stop to examine the billboard.

Whether an advertisement clearly displays a promoter statement depends on the advertisement and the context it’s in.

If an advertisement is only in an audible form, the promoter statement must be as easy to hear as the rest of the advertisement.

Advertisements related to an election or referendum also need a promoter statement

Some types of advertisements about an election or referendum need a promoter statement, even if they don’t encourage or persuade voters to vote or not vote for a party or candidate or referendum option and won’t count as an election or referendum expense.

For example, posters encouraging people to enrol to vote in the election need to include a promoter statement because the posters are related to an election.

This now applies to advertisements in all mediums, including:

  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • posters
  • billboards
  • leaflets
  • TV and radio broadcasts
  • online advertising.

It’s an offence to publish an election or referendum advertisement without a promoter statement

You’re committing an offence if you publish, or cause the publication of, an advertisement that doesn’t have a promoter statement when it’s meant to. As a publisher or broadcaster, you could be fined up to $10,000.

Promoters need written authorisation to promote a candidate or party

Promoters must get written authorisation from a party secretary or candidate before they can promote that party or candidate in their advertising.

If an advertisement promotes more than one party or candidate, the promoter needs written authorisation from each party secretary or candidate.

Candidates don’t need authorisation to promote themselves, and party secretaries don’t need authorisation to promote their own party.

Ask promoters for copies of their written authorisation

We recommend that you ask promoters for copies of any written authorisations an advertisement needs before you publish or broadcast it.

It’s an offence to publish an election advertisement without proper authorisation

You’re committing an offence if you publish, or cause the publication of, an advertisement that doesn’t have proper authorisation when it’s meant to. As a publisher or broadcaster, you could be fined up to $10,000.

Examples of election advertising rules

The examples below show how election advertising rules apply in practice.

Third party billboard promoting a party

A third party wants to spend $20,000 publishing a billboard during the regulated period that encourages voters to vote for Party A.

Before publishing the billboard, the third party must:

  • register with us as a promoter
  • get written authorisation from the secretary of Party A.

The billboard must include a promoter statement showing the name and address of the third party.

The $20,000 cost of the billboard will count toward election expense limits of both Party A and the third party.

Third party billboard attacking a party

A third party wants to spend $35,000 publishing a billboard during the regulated period that encourages voters not to vote for Party B.

Before publishing the billboard, the third party must register with us as a promoter. The third party doesn’t need authorisation from any party.

The billboard must include a promoter statement showing the name and address of the third party.

The $35,000 cost of the billboard will only count towards the third party’s election expense limit.

Third party flyer in a community newspaper

A third party prints a flyer and arranges for a publisher to distribute it with a community newspaper.

The flyer presents loaded questions and answers about a topical issue. It frames some answers in negative language with a cross, and others in positive language with a tick.

The flyer doesn’t identify any party or candidate by name, but it uses messages and colours to clearly reflect the policy positions of a type of party.

The third party and the publisher should ask us for an  advisory opinion.

If the flyer is an election advertisement or an advertisement relating to an election, it needs a promoter statement. If the flyer may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading electors to vote for a party, it may also need the party secretary’s prior written authorisation.

The third party may also need to register with us as a promoter, depending on how much they spend on the flyer.

Advertorial announcing the launch of a new political party

The secretary of a newly registered political party pays a newspaper to publish an advertorial highlighting the names and qualifications of party members.

The text uses language that positively promotes the party, such as:

  • ‘We have the people to protect families and promote local businesses.’
  • ‘This party will help all parents who want the best for their children.’

The advertorial also includes a photo of the party leader handing an oversized cheque to a local community group as a donation to its childcare initiative. A billboard with the party’s logo features prominently in the photo.

This advertorial is likely to be a party election advertisement. It should include a promoter statement including the name and address of the party secretary.

There are expense limits for election and referendum advertising

There are limits to how much parties, candidates and third parties can spend on election and referendum advertising during the regulated period.

The regulated period is from 18 August to 16 October.

The expense limits for election and referendum advertising are:

  • $28,200 for electorate candidate election expenses
  • $1,199,000 for a registered political party elections expenses, plus $28,200 for each electorate the party contests
  • For an unregistered promoter, the expense limit is $13,600 for the general election and $13,600 for each of the referendums. Any person that wants to spend more, must be a registered promoter. For example, if a group wants to spend $10,000 on advertising for the cannabis referendum and $10,000 on separate advertising for the end of life choice referendum, they don’t need to register.
  • A registered promoter’s expense limits are $338,000 for the general election and $338,000 for each of the referendums.
  • Parties and candidates can spend up to $13,600 on each referendum, but need to register as a referendum promoter to spend up to $338,000 for each referendum.

These amounts include GST. There are no limits on how much parties, candidates or third parties can spend on election or referendum advertising published before the regulated period.

Local councils are responsible for regulating election signs in their region

Local councils are responsible for regulating when, where and how election signs can be displayed.

In the 9 weeks before election day (from Saturday 15 August), promoters can put up election signs that are up to 3 square metres in size. This applies everywhere in New Zealand, but promoters still need to follow the local council’s application processes and rules about where they can put the signs up. Promoters should also talk to the local council if they want to put up larger signs.

The timing and size requirements for referendum signs may be different. Promoters need to check with local councils.

Promoters can only pay certain people to display election or referendum signs

Promoters can only pay someone to display an election or referendum sign if displaying signs is part of their business.

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