Election Programmes Code
Please note that this page will be updated shortly ahead of the 2020 General Election.
The Election Programmes Code only applies to election programmes that are broadcast on television or radio during the general election period. Usually, ‘election programmes’ will appear as short promotional / campaign clips for political parties or candidates, broadcast on TV or on radio.
Download the Election Programmes Code and guidance
Make an Election Programmes Complaint
If you would like to make a complaint about an election programme, please use our online form or contact us.
Please note in relation to the Code:
- Only general elections or by-elections for members of the House of Representatives are covered. Local body elections are not covered by this Code.
- Legislative amendments have recently been passed (21 March 2017) which make some changes to the requirements for election programmes. For example, the requirement for Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand to provide time for opening and closing addresses has been removed – this means that Standard E5 Opening and Closing Addresses will not apply during the 2017 General Election.
- See Broadcasting (Election Programmes and Election Advertising) Amendment Act 2017.
Election Programmes Code
The Broadcasting Act 1989 requires every broadcaster to be responsible for maintaining in programmes and their presentation, standards which are consistent with matters such as good taste and decency, law and order, and privacy.
The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) is responsible for administering the standards regime, determining formal complaints and encouraging broadcasters to develop and observe appropriate Codes of Broadcasting Practice.
The purpose of this Code of Broadcasting Practice is to emphasise important principles regulating the content of broadcast election programmes.
Under section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, there is a right to freedom of expression. When the Authority makes decisions on complaints, it will consider and apply the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
Election programmes are subject to the same broadcasting standards as other programmes.
Therefore, this Code should be read alongside the other Codes of Broadcasting Practice: Free-to-Air Television, Radio, and Pay Television. The Codes are also available free from the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
There is one exception to this: the requirement to present a range of significant viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance does not apply to election programmes (see section 79 of the Broadcasting Act(external)).
In recognition of the special context of general elections, broadcasting standards such as fairness and accuracy will be applied to election programmes in a manner that respects the importance of free political expression and debate.
Complaints about election programmes are made straight to the BSA.
An election programme is subject to all relevant provisions of the Codes of Broadcasting Practice for television and radio except for the requirement to present a range of significant viewpoints on issues of public importance.
Robust debate, advocacy and expression of political opinion are a desirable and essential part of a democratic society and broadcasting standards will be applied in a manner which respects this context.
An election programme may include debate, advocacy and opinion, but factual information should be clearly distinguishable from opinion or advocacy.
While an election programme may oppose a political party, or candidate, it may not include material which denigrates a political party or candidate.
An election programme may not imitate an existing programme, format or identifiable personality in a manner which is likely to mislead.
A party opening or closing address must be clearly identifiable as a party political broadcast made by, or on behalf of, a specified political party.
Legislative amendments have recently been passed (21 March 2017) which make some changes to the requirements for election programmes. For example, the requirement for Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand to provide time for opening and closing addresses has been removed – this means that Standard E5 Opening and Closing Addresses will not apply during the 2017 General Election. See: Broadcasting (Election Programmes and Election Advertising) Amendment Act 2017.
The BSA’s role is to address complaints about the content of ‘election programmes’ broadcast on TV or radio, and to determine whether they breach the Election Programmes Code (section 8(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989). These complaints are made directly to the BSA. The BSA will endeavour to deal with election programme complaints as quickly as possible, after giving the parties involved an opportunity to comment.
Only general elections or by-elections for members of the House of Representatives are covered. Local body elections are not covered by this Code.
The BSA also considers complaints about the content of other programmes which may relate to the election (eg, broadcast news and current affairs coverage, satire and comment), under the Radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV Codes. 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.
The BSA does not consider complaints about compliance with requirements such as promoter statements, written authorisation, allocation of funding, timing of broadcasting, or expense limits. These are dealt with by the Electoral Commission.
Section 69(1) of 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 the election of 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.
Usually, election programmes will appear as short promotional / campaign clips broadcast on TV or on radio, for political parties or constituency candidates.
The Court of Appeal has held that election programmes are only those that are broadcast for political parties or candidates – and not programmes initiated by broadcasters or other third parties.
This means that other programmes about election matters that are broadcast on TV and radio, including news, comment or current affairs in relation to an election, are not ‘election programmes’ and are not subject to the Election Programmes Code. For example, if a comedy programme aired on television in the lead-up to the election included a skit featuring or parodying a particular party and candidate, it would not be considered an election programme. If a political documentary aired on television shortly before the election, which commented on a party’s track record on a contestable policy issue, this also would not be considered an election programme.
These programmes must however comply with the relevant broadcasting standards for Radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV.
If the item is a third party-initiated ‘election advertisement’, it may be subject to the requirements under the Electoral Act (for which the Electoral Commission has responsibility), and any complaints about the content of such an advertisement may be made to the Advertising Standards Authority.
Complaints about the content of TV or radio programmes that relate to the election, that are not election programmes or election advertisements, can be considered by the broadcaster under the relevant broadcasting code of practice (Radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV), and then referred to the BSA if the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome.
Election programmes may only be broadcast during the ‘election period’. It is an offence to broadcast an election programme for a party or candidate outside of this period. Contact the Electoral Commission for more information about this.
It depends on what your complaint is about:
- The content of an election programme broadcast on TV or radio, during the general election period - The BSA
- The content of an election advertisement published in any other media, including print, online, pamphlets, billboards - the Advertising Standards Authority
- The content of a programme discussing election matters, broadcast on TV or radio (or on-demand, provided it was also broadcast on TV or radio) - the broadcaster (within 20 working days)
- A discussion of election matters in the editorial content (as distinct from advertising) in NZ Media Council members’ publications - the NZ Media Council
- The requirements relating to election programmes (under the Broadcasting Act), or election advertisements (under the Electoral Act). The Electoral Commission
If we receive a complaint that ought to be considered by the Electoral Commission, the Media Council or the Advertising Standards Authority, we will forward your complaint to the correct agency, and advise you where it has been sent.