Middlemiss and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1996-128
- J M Potter (Chair)
- A Martin
- L M Loates
- R McLeod
- Janet Middlemiss
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
In its political advertisements on radio and television, the party registered with the Electoral Commission as the ‘NZ National Party’ described itself as 'National’.
Ms Middlemiss complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the use of abbreviated titles could be misleading. She mentioned one voter who, she alleged, had been misled by the abbreviation and had voted ‘National’ when she intended to vote for ‘NZ First’.
Maintaining that the advertisements made clear which Party they were promoting, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Middlemiss referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its practice, the Authority has determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
Explaining that she had been told of a special voter who had voted for the National Party rather than NZ First because of that person’s confusion having seen National’s political advertisements, Ms Middlemiss complained that the National Party did not use in its television advertisements its name as registered with the Electoral Commission.
TVNZ assessed the complaint under the Advocacy Advertising rule contained in the Advertising Standards Authority’s Code of Ethics. Because the Broadcasting Standards Authority believes that this rule provides a useful guideline for ‘election programmes’, it is included in the Notes to the Broadcasting Standards Authority’s Programme Code for Election Programmes/Advertisements. It reads:
Advocacy Advertising – Expression of opinion in advocacy advertising is a desirable and essential part of a democratic society therefore such opinions may be robust. The spirit of the Codes should be given more weight than literal interpretation but factual information should be clearly distinguishable from opinion. The identity of an advertiser in matters of public interest or political issue should be quite clear.
Arguing that the identity of the advertiser was quite clear, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It also maintained that the description used by a political party on the ballot paper was not a matter of broadcasting standards.
When referring her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, Ms Middlemiss asked whether a political party should be allowed to use ‘a non-existent name’ in its political advertisements.
In its report to the Authority, TVNZ said it was aware the Labour Party did not use its registered name in its political advertisements, and added that many companies did not use their registered names in their advertising.
As part of her final comment, Ms Middlemiss expressed the opinion that the term ‘quite clear’ used by TVNZ was ambiguous as it could mean ‘fairly clear’ or ‘absolutely clear’.
In its assessment of the complaint, the Broadcasting Standards Authority focuses on one of the themes which permeates the standards which apply specifically to election programmes and election advertisements. That theme is that such broadcasts are not to be misleading or deceptive. This point is evident in Advertising Standards Authority’s Advertising Code of Ethics where the provision entitled Advocacy Advertising has been cited above. It is also apparent in the Broadcasting Standards Authority’s Programme Code for Election Programmes/Advertisements where standard E3 prohibits ‘election programmes which imitate an existing format’. Standard E4 deals with the opening and closing addresses of political parties and requires such programmes to be ‘clearly identifiable’ as a message from a political party.
The Broadcasting Standards Authority accepts that the party registered with the Electoral Commission as the ‘NZ National Party’ did not use that full title in its political advertisements broadcast on television. However, having viewed several advertisements used by that Party, the Authority is in no doubt that it would be most unlikely for a viewer to be misled as to which Party was being promoted. Merely by using on the advertisements the abbreviated description ‘National’, the Authority does not consider that the advertisements were either deceptive or misleading.
For the reasons above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
3 October 1996
Ms Middlemiss’ Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 30 September 1996
Janet Middlemiss of Featherston complained about the televised political advertising by the party which described itself in the advertisements as the ‘National Party’. Her complaint sent to the Advertising Standards Complaint Board was forwarded to the Broadcasting Standards Authority which forwarded it to the broadcaster.
Ms Middleton recorded that the Party she was referring to was registered by the Electoral Commission as ‘The NZ National Party’ which was later reduced to ‘NZ National Party’. Accordingly, Ms Middlemiss argued, the Party should use that name in its political advertisements on radio and television. Because it did not do so, she added, the name used confused the Party’s identity with that of ‘New Zealand First’. One voter, Ms Middlemiss alleged, had voted for the National Party when she had meant to vote for New Zealand First.
Ms Middlemiss concluded:
I call on your Board to force the NZ National Party to be consistent in its advertising and use the name that it registered in August of 1996 with the Electoral Commission – namely ‘NZ National Party’.
TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 1 October 1996
Advising Ms Middlemiss that the complaint had been dealt with under the election programme fast-track process, TVNZ wrote:
At the outset we have to say that the matters you raise do not seem to us to come under the general heading of programme standards. You should more properly address your concerns either to the National Party itself, or to the Electoral Commission.
It proceeded, nevertheless, to assess the complaint on the basis that the Party registered with the Electoral Commission as the ‘NZ National Party’ used the title ‘National’ in its television advertising in order to draw votes from NZ First.
Responding to the complaint, TVNZ wrote:
The rule that applies in the case of political advertisements is that concerning advocacy advertising. The statutory requirement is that ‘the identity of an advertiser in matters of public interest or political issues should be quite clear’. It is our view that National Party advertisements make their origin quite clear, through the use of the party logo, and through the baseline acknowledgment showing under whose authority the advertisement is being shown.
TVNZ maintained that the description used by the Party on the ballot paper was not a matter of broadcasting standards and pointed out that party logos were also used on ballot papers.
Explaining that a number of parties had included 'NZ' in their titles for use on ballot papers, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint and suggested Ms Middlemiss take up her concern with the Electoral Commission.
Ms Middlemiss’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 1 October 1996
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Middlemiss referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
Ms Middlemiss argued in reply to TVNZ's contention, that there was no such thing in New Zealand as the ‘National Party’. The Party which TVNZ referred to, she averred, was registered with the Electoral Commission as the ‘New Zealand National Party’.
Should a political party, she asked, be allowed to use a non-existent name in its political advertisements?
TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 1 October 1996
In its report to the Authority, TVNZ wrote:
We know of no legal requirement for an organisation to use precisely the title under which is registered when it is advertising. The Advocacy Advertising rule, referred to under Notes (2) of the Election Programmes/Advertisements Programme Code, provides only that the identity of the advertiser must be clear and it is our view that the political advertisements for the NZ National Party clearly show from whence they come.
Pointing out that the Labour Party did not use its registered name in its political advertising on television, TVNZ said that the Electoral Commission had advised that a party was entitled to choose how it wished to be described on the ballot paper.
TVNZ also referred to some other examples where companies did not use their registered names in its advertising.
Ms Middlemiss’ Final Comment – 2 October 1996
Arguing that the standard and TVNZ's reply accepted, on the one hand, full knowledge while on the other, incomplete knowledge, Ms Middlemiss sought a ruling from the Authority. She asked for a categorical ruling that there was no legislation which required an organisation to use a registered name in its advertising.
As for TVNZ’s reference to the requirement in the ASA Code of Ethics rule to the term ‘quite clear’, she wrote:
The phrase ‘quite clear’ is unfortunately ambiguous. It may mean:
1) fairly clear but not absolutely clear
2) absolutely clear
I put it that the second meaning is intended by the law and that the NZ National Party breaches this condition in its television advertising.