On the Box

Television arrived on the New Zealand electoral scene in 1963 but had little impact during that dull campaign.

Two hours of pre-recorded speeches were broadcast on each of the four regional television stations (compared to 24 hours of radio time). But most politicians appeared stiff and uncomfortable in front of the camera, and the telecasts were described as 'animated waxworks'.

During the 1969 and 1972 campaigns the style of election advertisements began to change. The airtime allocated to parties increased, and the minimum time slots became smaller. The old style of 'talking heads' explaining detailed policy proposals gave way to short, snappy advertisements that were simpler and more emotional in their appeal.

These trends were even more noticeable in 1975 - the first election held after the introduction of colour television and a second channel.

The National Party's leader, Robert Muldoon, was one of the first politicians to appear comfortable on television. That year National also caused a stir with colourful cartoon adverts featuring Russian Cossacks dancing across the screen - intended to suggest that their Labour opponents supported Soviet-style nationalisation.

By the 1980s television was firmly established as the most important electioneering medium. For a new generation of politicians, effective communication on the small screen has become one of the most vital political skills.

Last updated: 15 February 2013