Media Handbook for the 2020 General Election

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Parties, candidates and third parties can promote election and referendum advertisements on TV or radio, but separate rules apply. Make sure an advertisement follows the relevant rules before you broadcast it.

Here’s a summary of the rules:

  • You can only broadcast election advertisements on TV or radio and from 13 September to midnight on 16 October (excluding 6am to noon on Sundays).
  • It’s unlawful to broadcast an election advertisement before 13 September or on election day.
  • Registered political parties can only use money that we allocate to buy airtime for election advertisements – though they can spend their own money on production costs.
  • You must offer the same rate card and terms to all parties and the same rate card and terms to all candidates – including any volume discounts and bonus allocations.
  • Candidates can promote themselves on TV or radio during the election period, within their expense limit. Their broadcasts can only feature one candidate, can’t promote a party and can’t attack a party or candidate.
  • Parties can use their allocation to promote candidates – candidate expense limits and donations rules apply.
  • Parties can use their allocation for referendum advertisements but the total cost will be a referendum expense.
  • We are advising parties and electorate candidates to assume that any referendum advertising they do is also a party or candidate advertisement
  • Third parties can broadcast election and referendum advertisements at any time except on election day.

These rules apply to a broadcast if it does any of the following:

  • Encourages or persuades voters to vote, or not vote, for a party or candidate
  • Appears to encourage or persuade voters to vote, or not vote, for a party or candidate
  • Supports or opposes a party or candidate
  • Tells voters about meetings about an election

Broadcasting covers radio and television, including pay TV such as Sky, but not other on-demand online services such as TVNZ on Demand and Three Now.

You’re a broadcaster if you broadcast programmes, such as if you’re a station or network manager. You’re not a broadcaster if you only supply transmission services, unless you have some control over what is broadcast.

You have responsibilities as a broadcaster

As a broadcaster, you’re responsible for making sure any election advertisements you broadcast are legal and meet broadcasting standards.

If you break the rules for broadcasting election advertisements, you could be fined up to $100,000. If you breach the broadcasting standards other sanctions may be imposed by the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

You can only broadcast election advertisements from parties and candidates Sunday 13 September to Friday 16 October

You can only broadcast election advertisements on television or radio within the election period. The election period starts on Sunday 13 September and finishes at the end of Friday 16 October, the day before election day.

You can broadcast election advertisements from third parties at any time except election day

If an advertisement’s promoter is a third party, you can broadcast it at any time except on election day.

You can broadcast referendum advertisements at any time except election day

The general rule is that referendum advertisements can be broadcast at any time, except for on election day. However, our advice is that parties and electorate candidates are being advised to assume that any broadcasting about the referendum will also be an election programme and therefore can only be broadcast from Sunday 13 September to Friday 16 October.

What a broadcast advertisement can include depends on who is promoting it

Different rules apply to the content of election advertisements on TV and radio, depending on whether the promoter is a party, a candidate or a third party.

All broadcast advertisements need a promoter statement

All broadcast advertisements must have a promoter statement, whether they’re election or referendum advertisements.

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

Only registered parties with a broadcasting allocation can promote themselves with TV and radio advertisements

Registered parties with a broadcasting allocation can promote election advertisements on TV and radio that:

  • support a party
  • attack a party or candidate
  • support an electorate candidate, with the candidate’s written authorisation.

Unregistered parties, and registered parties without a broadcasting allocation, can only use election advertisements on TV and radio to promote their electorate candidates.

Electorate candidates can’t share TV or radio advertisements with their party or another candidate

Electorate candidates can only promote election advertisements on TV and radio that:

  • support the candidate’s own candidacy
  • mention a party name and party policies.

A candidate’s election advertisements on TV and radio can’t:

  • encourage the party vote or promote a party list
  • attack other parties or their policies
  • attack other candidates or their policies
  • promote other candidates.

Third party broadcast advertisements

Third parties can broadcast election advertisements on TV and radio. The only restriction third party broadcasting is that they can’t broadcast election or referendum advertisements on election day.

If a third party’s advertisement promotes a political party or candidate, they need written authority from that party or candidate. The third party election expense limit applies during the regulated period.

The advertising standards still apply to any advertising by third parties. The Advertising Standards Authority administers those standards.

Third parties can promote non-partisan, community service station announcements such as free listings of candidate meetings, or advertisements encouraging people to enrol or vote. These broadcasts must include a promoter statement.

The broadcasting allocation and how it can be used

Registered parties, candidates and third parties have to follow certain rules about what they use to pay for election and referendum advertising on TV and radio.

We allocate some money to parties for broadcast and internet advertising

For each general election, we allocate funds to registered parties for them to spend on broadcast and internet advertising. We don’t allocate funds for by-elections, nor do we allocate funds directly to electorate candidates.

Parliament gave us $4.146 million (including GST) to allocate for the 2020 General Election.

Parties can spend their allocation on election advertisements including referendum advertisements. Any costs a party pays with the broadcasting allocation don’t count towards their election expense limit. However, if they advertise about the referendum, the entire cost of the advertisement will count as a referendum expense. Parties must send us a return of their broadcasting allocation expenses within 90 days of election day.  If they spend more than $100,000 on referendum expenses, they must also file a return of referendum expenses.

Parties can only pay for broadcasting time with their broadcasting allocation

Registered parties can only buy time on TV or radio to promote themselves with funds they get from the broadcasting allocation. It’s illegal for parties to spend their own funds to buy time on TV or radio to promote themselves.

Parties can use their broadcasting allocation or their own money to pay production costs

Registered parties can use either their broadcasting allocation or their own funds to pay production costs for TV or radio advertisements. If a party uses its own funds, the production costs count towards that party’s expense limit.

Parties can use their broadcasting allocation to pay for internet advertising

Registered parties can also spend their broadcasting allocation on:

  • the cost of producing internet advertisements that the party publishes, or continues to publish, from 13 September — writ day to 16 October — the day before election day.
  • placing or promoting internet advertisements from 13 September — writ day to 16 October — the day before election day.

Parties can use the broadcasting allocation to promote their candidates

Parties can use their broadcasting allocation to promote their candidates with broadcast or internet advertising. The cost of the advertisement, or the part of the advertisement relating to the candidate, is both a:

  • candidate expense
  • donation to the candidate from the party.

Parties without a broadcasting allocation can’t promote themselves on TV or radio

Unregistered parties, and registered parties without a broadcasting allocation, can only use TV and radio to promote their electorate candidates. In this case, the rules for third party broadcasting apply.

Candidates can use their own funds to pay for broadcast advertising

Candidates can use their own money to pay for broadcasting time and production costs. These costs count towards the candidate’s expense limit.

Third parties can use their own funds to pay for broadcast advertising

We don’t give broadcasting allocations to third parties, but they can pay for advertising with their own money.

If a third party promotes an election or referendum advertisement on TV and radio during the regulated period, the cost of that advertisement counts towards the third party’s expense and referendum limits.

You can start accepting bookings at any time

There’s no restriction on when you can start accepting bookings for candidate and party election advertisements. When you accept a booking, you should clearly record whether it’s for a party or an electorate candidate. You should also record the name of the party or candidate.

If a party makes a booking, you should check that it:

  • is within the amount the party got in the broadcasting allocation
  • meets any conditions of the broadcasting allocation.

You must offer consistent rate cards and terms

You must offer each party the same rate card and terms, including any volume discounts and bonus allocation. You must also offer each candidate the same rate card and terms, including any volume discounts and bonus allocation.

Your employees can keep presenting on air if they become candidates

If your employee becomes a candidate, they can legally keep presenting their programme on air during the election campaign.

However, your employee must take great care in how they talk about issues that might be relevant to the election. They will be the subject of careful public scrutiny.

You and your employee should use your own judgement. Take ethical, legal and employment considerations into account, as well as the broadcasting standards. 

Rules for broadcasting election advertisements don’t apply to news, comment or current affairs

The rules for broadcasting election advertisements don’t apply to editorial content, third party comment or opinions about an election, such as:

  • news
  • comment
  • current affairs
  • entertainment
  • documentaries.

The broadcasting standards for radio, free-to-air TV and pay TV will apply to those programmes. The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) administers those standards.

The Media Council Principles apply to the editorial content of newspapers, magazines and periodicals in circulation in New Zealand including their websites; the online content of TVNZ, Mediaworks, Māori Television, Sky Network Television, NZME Radio and Radio New Zealand; digital sites with news content, including blogs characterised by news commentary, that have been accepted as members of the Media Council. The Media Council administers those standards.

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