Frequently asked questions Ngā Pātai e Kaha Whiua Nei

Election Programmes

We address complaints about ‘election programmes’ on TV or radio, and decide if they breach the Election Programmes Code. These complaints can be made directly to the BSA and we deal with them via a fast-track process.

Only general elections or by-elections for MPs are covered by this Code.

The BSA also considers complaints about other programmes which may relate to the election (eg, news, current affairs, satire and comment), under normally applicable broadcasting standards. These complaints must first be made to the broadcaster, and then can be referred to the BSA if the complainant is dissatisfied with the response.

Complaints over requirements such as promoter statements, written authorisation, allocation of funding, timing of broadcasting, or expense limits are dealt with by the Electoral Commission. The Advertising Standards Authority and NZ Media Council also deal with complaints about election advertising and coverage.

For more information about who you should complain to, see our Who does what? elections guide.

The Broadcasting Act 1989 defines an election programme as a programme that is broadcast on TV or radio during an election period and:

  • encourages or persuades, or appears to encourage or persuade, voters to vote, or not to vote, for a political party or a constituency candidate; or
  • advocates support for, or opposes, a constituency candidate or political party; or
  • notifies meetings held or to be held in connection with an election.

Only programmes broadcast for political parties or constituency candidates are considered election programmes, and these will usually appear as short promotional/campaign clips.

Programmes initiated by broadcasters or other third parties are not considered ‘election programmes’.

This means TV and radio programmes including news, comment, current affairs or comedy in relation to an election are not subject to the Election Programmes Code.

However, complaints about these programmes can be considered by the broadcaster under the normally applicable broadcasting standards, and then referred to the BSA if the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome.

If the item is a third party-initiated ‘election advertisement’, it may be subject to requirements under the Electoral Act. Complaints about these can be made to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Election programmes can only be aired during the ‘election period’. It’s an offence to broadcast an election programme for a party or candidate outside this period. Contact the Electoral Commission for more information.

It depends what your complaint is about:

  • An election programme on TV or radio during the general election period: BSA
  • An election advertisement in other media, including print, online, pamphlets or billboards: Advertising Standards Authority
  • A programme discussing election matters on TV or radio (or on-demand, provided it was broadcast on TV or radio): the broadcaster (within 20 working days)
  • Discussion of election matters in editorial content (as distinct from advertising) in NZ Media Council members’ publications: NZ Media Council
  • Compliance with requirements such as promoter statements, written authorisation, allocation of funding, timing of broadcasting, or expense limits: Electoral Commission

If in doubt, check the table in our Quick Guide here.

If we receive a complaint that ought to be considered by the Electoral Commission, Media Council or Advertising Standards Authority, we’ll forward your complaint to them and let you know.

In an election period, we have a fast-track process to ensure election programme complaints are determined quickly. The process used in 2020 can be seen here.