Please read this overview first before using the links on the left for more detailed information on the rules and requirements around election broadcasting.

Both broadcasting and electoral laws govern how and when political parties, electorate candidates, and third parties can use radio and television advertising in election campaigns. 

Registered parties may only use funds allocated by the Electoral Commission to advertise for the party vote, together with any free time allocated for party opening addresses and closing addresses. 

Electorate candidates may buy broadcast advertising from their campaign expense limit, and their party may fund it from any party allocation it receives. 

Unregistered parties and registered parties not allocated funds may advertise through their electorate candidates' campaigns.

The courts have held that the election broadcasting rules do not apply to broadcasts initiated by third parties. However, third parties must still comply with election advertising rules such as including a promoter statement.

Broadcasters are required to ensure advertising complies with the law and to file returns after an election. 

News, comment and current affairs programmes are governed by usual broadcasting standards. The Broadcasting Standards Authority is also responsible for deciding complaints about broadcast election advertising, which do not need to be first considered by the broadcaster.

This information is provided for general guidance and is not a full or final statement of what is complicated law in the Broadcasting Act 1989 and Electoral Act 1993.  Most of the law is in the Broadcasting Act 1989, so section references in the broadcasting pages are to this act unless stated otherwise.

Broadcast election advertising terms

The Broadcasting Act 1989 refers to "election programmes".  This definition includes advertisements by electoral agencies and station community service announcements.

This guidance uses the term "broadcast election advertising" to refer to advertising by political parties, candidates or other groups with an election-related message.  Broadcast election advertising includes:

  • advertisements relating to parties, or candidates, or both.
  • 'positive' and 'negative' messages e.g. 'Vote for X' and 'Don't vote for Y' (although candidates may not run negative advertising).
  • advertisements of election meetings.
  • broadcast visual images, whether or not combined with sounds, that consist predominantly of alphanumeric text (eg, Teletext). 

"Broadcasting" covers radio and television, including subscription services but not pay-per-view channels.  A "broadcaster " is a person who broadcasts programmes, but does not include a transmission service supplier unless they have some control over what is broadcast.  The "broadcaster" will generally be a station or network manager.

Users of this guidance should check the legal definitions and their applications when appropriate.

News, comment and current affairs exempt

The rules do not apply to broadcaster's news, comment or current affairs programmes.  Broadcasting restrictions only apply to programmes broadcast for a candidate or party.

Other election-related advertisers covered 

Individuals or organisations who are not parties or candidates (including third parties) may broadcast advertisements at any time. Such advertisements must contain a promoter statement, Electoral Act 1993 s204F and s.221A.  A promoter statement including the promoter's name and full street address of where the promoter usually lives or any other place where he or she can usually be contacted between 9am and 5pm on any working day to ensure that the rules around promoter statements are met.

Non-partisan, community service, station announcements (eg, free listings of candidate meetings, encouragement to enrol or vote) may be broadcast and must contain an authorisation statement giving the true name and street address of the home or work of the person authorising it.

Official advertisements placed on behalf of the electoral agencies are not restricted but must identify the agency that authorised it.

Electorate candidate broadcast election advertising

Electorate candidate advertising must promote the electorate vote only, although the party name and policies may be mentioned.  Electorate candidates cannot run negative advertising.  All advertising must be paid for (although an advertising schedule may contain bonus airtime contingent on a spend level), broadcast between writ day and midnight on the day before election day, be authorised in writing and contain a promoter statement.  The cost must be included in the candidate's return of election expenses, even where that cost is not paid by the candidate.  Unless paid for from a party allocation, electorate candidates may not share broadcast election advertisements with other candidates (unlike non-broadcast advertising).

Registered political party election advertising

Registered party advertising may advocate for or against a party.  When it advocates for an electorate candidate then authorisation and expense apportionment requirements may apply.  All advertising must be: paid for from an allocation made by the Electoral Commission, broadcast between writ day and midnight on the day before election day, be authorised in writing and contain a promoter statement.  The cost of placement paid for out of an allocation of money from the Commission is not included in the party's return of election expenses.  If a party places advertising from its own funds, then this expenditure must be included, despite it being an offence to spend party funds in this way.

Allocation process

Registered parties can apply to the Commission for consideration for an allocation of funds to buy broadcast advertising and for free time for campaign addresses provided by Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand.  There is no allocation for a by-election, nor directly to electorate candidates.

The allocation process takes about three months and the Commission aims to have it complete about five months before the last possible date for the general election.  The law sets the criteria the Commission must consider in making an allocation. Variations to the allocation may be made after the dissolution of Parliament and in certain other circumstances.  Fast-track allocation procedures are used if there is an early election.

Broadcaster requirements

Broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that: any broadcast election advertising and news, comment and current affairs that they carry are within the law and broadcasting standards; offer the same advertising business terms to all parties and candidates; provide a return to the commission detailing all election advertising broadcast; and to refer complainants about broadcasting standards direct to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Complaints about election broadcasting

The Broadcasting Standards Authority is responsible for deciding complaints about broadcast election advertising (in addition to its usual role in relation to complaints about news, comment or current affairs programmes).

Last updated: 27 February 2017