Eligible parties that intend to contest the general election can apply for an allocation by the Electoral Commission of free time for campaign addresses or money for election programmes broadcast by Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand during the election period. The Broadcasting Act 1989 sets the criteria the Commission must consider in making an allocation. 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 made the allocation decision by the middle of election year. Allocations may be varied later in certain circumstances. Fast-track allocation procedures are used if there is an early election.
The processes summarised in the timetable are provided for in the Broadcasting Act 1989 Part 6.
Which political parties are eligible for consideration for an allocation?
Only those parties that:
- give written notice to the Commission by the set date that the party considers itself eligible for an allocation of time under section 73 or money under section 74A of the Broadcasting Act, and
- are on the Register of Political Parties, or intend to be by the set date (the time Parliament is dissolved for the general election).
A component party of an umbrella party may apply but cannot receive an allocation if the umbrella party does.
How much time is available for allocation?
Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand are asked by the Electoral Commission to advise how much free time they will give for the broadcast of parties' campaign opening and closing addresses. The amount of time determined by each broadcaster, who can also propose conditions about when the addresses will be broadcast and suggest allocations to parties.
In 2011, for example, both broadcasters provided 72 minutes for opening addresses and 60 minutes for closing addresses.
How much money is made available for allocation?
The Minister of Justice advises the Commission of how much money is available for allocation, which has to be the same amount as for the previous election unless changed by Parliament.
What can a party's allocation of money be used for?
A party's allocations can only be used for the production costs or the cost of broadcasting time for election programmes broadcast during the election period that starts on writ day and ends at midnight on the day before the election.
Parties should note that the dollar amounts allocated are inclusive of GST, and should ensure that all communications, planning and ordering takes account of this.
A party may spend its allocation on advertising of an electorate candidate, but only on or after writ day with the cost counting and being returned against the candidate's expense limit and as a donation, and the advertising otherwise conforming to the candidate advertising requirements including authorisation.
Can a party spend its own funds to buy radio or television time in addition to any allocation from the Commission?
No. A party is not permitted to spend its own funds on broadcasting time whether or not it is eligible for or has received an allocation. Candidates from a party without an allocation may still buy broadcasting time to promote themselves as candidates, but not the party vote (if applicable to the party).
Parties may spend their own money on production costs. These costs will be a party election expense for the purposes of the rules for expenses under Part 6A of the Electoral Act 1993.
What factors must the Commission consider in allocating time and money to eligible parties?
The law requires the Commission to consider the following factors in allocating time and money to an eligible political party at a general election:
- the number of persons who voted at the previous general election for that party and for candidates belonging to that political party; and
- the number of persons who voted for the party's candidate at any by-election held since the previous general election; and
- the number of members of Parliament who were members of that political party immediately before the dissolution or expiration of Parliament; and
- any relationships that exist between that political party and any other political party; and
- any other indications of public support for that political party such as the results of public opinion polls and the number of persons who are members of that political party; and
- the need to provide a fair opportunity for each eligible political party to convey its policies to the public by broadcasting election programmes on television.
The Commission decides the relative emphasis to be given to each of these factors after considering parties' submissions. It cannot consider other matters.
Parties may receive an allocation of time, or funds, or both.
Why and how could the Commission vary its allocation decisions?
In specified circumstances the Commission can vary the allocations made without further consultation. These include a party not accepting an allocation, having its registration cancelled, making a significant change in its relationships with other parties, or failing to nominate a party list. Only a cancellation of party registration or failure to nominate a party list can trigger a reallocation after a party has started to use an allocation. The Commission may decide not to make a reallocation if amounts involved are small or time is short. If a party loses allocation it has already spent then the Commission may require the party to repay the money spent.
How are broadcaster (and any production) invoices paid?
The Commission pays suppliers' accounts that have been certified by an authorised party official as payable from the party's allocation. Payments are made to suppliers and no money is paid directly to parties.
- aims to pay all properly authorised and payable accounts within 5 working days of receiving them from parties
- cannot guarantee in advance that a particular account will be paid and cannot provide a credit reference for a party
- will not pay any account until it has been certified by a party as payable from its allocation
- cannot pay any account that will result in a party's broadcasting expenditure exceeding its allocation
- cannot pay any account received more than 50 working days after the end of the month in which the election was held.
It is an offence for a party to spend its own funds on buying radio or television broadcasting time for election programmes, although a party is permitted to spend its own funds on production costs.
It is also an offence for anyone (including a broadcaster) to arrange for a party's election programme to be broadcast in contravention of Part 6 of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
Election broadcasts by candidates are payable directly by the candidate's campaign fund, unless it is to be met from a party's allocation in which case the above provisions apply.
Does the allocation process change if an early election is called or if the Commission has not made an allocation by the time Parliament expires or is dissolved?
The same steps are involved, however the timing will be shorter. If the Commission has already issued a deadline for party's to notify eligibility then it may bring that date forward.
What are opening and closing addresses?
An opening address is a presentation on behalf of a party that is broadcast soon after writ day.
A closing addresses is a presentation on behalf of a party, usually broadcast on the evening before election day.
Who broadcasts addresses and when?
Television New Zealand is required to broadcast the addresses on one free-to-air channel with national coverage. Radio New Zealand is required to broadcast the addresses on National Radio. They must be broadcast between 7pm and 9pm. Opening addresses are generally broadcast over two nights soon after writ day. Closing addresses must be broadcast consecutively on one night.
Who decides the order in which addresses will be broadcast?
The Commission decides the order of addresses, in consultation with the broadcasters.
Can a party or candidate place radio or TV advertising before its opening address has been broadcast or after its closing address has been broadcast?
Yes, as long as it meets other requirements. Party or candidate election programmes must not be broadcast before writ day or after midnight on the day before election day.