With the 2023 General Election around the corner, we will see advertisements from political parties, candidates, and advocacy groups in increasing numbers over the coming months. Election related advertising is subject to a number of rules, and the New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) runs a special process during the election period to ensure this advertising is dealt with as quickly as possible.
The ASA is one of four regulatory bodies who adjudicate complaints about election advertising and election related content. Along with the ASA, the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA), Electoral Commission, and New Zealand Media Council all operate free-to-consumer complaints processes to support responsible election advertisements, editorial and programme content. This article will focus on the jurisdiction and special election complaints process for the ASA, but if you would like to learn more about the jurisdictions of each of the four regulatory bodies, you can view our short video Election Content and Advertising: Who Covers What? or check out the Guide to Election Advertising 2023.
Election das – what does the ASA cover?
Under the Broadcasting Act, party and candidate election advertisements on radio and television (defined as election programmes) are under the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
The ASA deals with complaints about paid election advertising in media not covered by the BSA Election Programmes Code.
Our jurisdiction includes paid digital advertisements, paid communications from social media platforms (boosted or sponsored posts and paid advertisements), print, addressed and unaddressed mail, cinema, and outdoor advertising. Television and radio advertising for third parties is also subject to the Advertising Standards Code. Our jurisdiction does not cover posts on branded social media pages (referred to as organic posts) or websites from political parties, candidates, and election-related advocacy groups. Our Short & Sweet: Election Advertising video provides a brief overview of the role and jurisdiction of the ASA.
How does the ASA assess election ads?
Election advertisements from political parties, candidates and interest groups fall under the category of advocacy advertising, which we define as:
“Advocacy Advertising is issues-based advertising where its purpose is to express the advertiser’s position on a political, religious, industrial relations, environmental or societal matter or on an issue of public interest or concern, with the intent to influence the choice, opinion, or behaviour of those to whom it is addressed.”
Advocacy advertising presents some of the most challenging advertising we adjudicate on. It is usually characterised by parties having differing views that are expressed in robust terms, resulting in strong objections from complainants and an equally strong defense from advertisers. As a result of their intent to present a point of view, advocacy advertisements are not expected to be balanced. It’s important to note that when assessing complaints regarding advocacy advertising, the Board must consider the advertisement itself, and not the position of the advertiser.
The Advertising Standards Codes and our Advocacy Principles contain provisions to ensure Complaints and Appeal Board decisions support issues being openly debated and endeavour not to apply a technical or unduly strict interpretation of the rules and guidelines when adjudicating on complaints. The Boards also consider the protection for freedom of expression under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZBORA).
Election advertising that falls under our jurisdiction is subject to the Advertising Standards Code. Rules that are most commonly referred to in decisions regarding these ads are:
Rule 2 (b) Truthful presentation: Advertisements must not mislead or be likely to mislead, deceive or confuse consumers, abuse their trust, or exploit their lack of knowledge. This includes by implication, inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, unrealistic claim, omission, false representation or otherwise. Obvious hyperbole identifiable as such is not considered to be misleading.
Rule 2 (e) Advocacy advertising: Advocacy advertising must clearly state the identity and position of the advertiser. Opinion in support of the advertiser’s position must be clearly distinguishable from factual information. Factual information must be able to be substantiated.
As the issues broached in advocacy advertising can be polarising, it is sometimes necessary to consider them against Rule 1(c): Decency and Offensiveness: Advertisements must not contain anything that is indecent, or exploitative, or degrading, or likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence, or give rise to hostility, contempt, abuse, or ridicule. When considering advocacy advertisements against this rule, the Boards must take into account the advocacy advertising principles and right to freedom of expression under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.
More information on how the ASA assesses advocacy ads, including case studies and examples, is available in our Guidance Note on Advocacy Advertising.
Special Complaints Process for Election Advertising
We run a fast-track system for complaints about election related advertising in the lead up to the General Election. The fast-track system ensures these complaints are prioritised in our system to support responsible election advertising and a fair and democratic election process. From 14 September 2023, new complaints about election advertising will be reviewed by the Chair of the Complaints Board daily, with shortened response times for advertisers to allow for weekly Complaints Board meetings. A full overview of the fast-track system is on page 13 of the Guide on Election Advertising on our website.
Keen to learn more?
We have released a range of resources to support responsible election advertising:
- Guide on Election Advertising
- Guidance Note on Advocacy Advertising
- Short & Sweet: Election Advertising
- Election Content and Advertising: Who Covers What?
If you see any election advertising that concerns you, or you have any questions regarding the rules or ASA process, please don’t hesitate to contact them
About the New Zealand ASA
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is an organisation that investigates breaches of advertising standards in New Zealand. The ASA provides a free complaints process for consumers about the content and placement of advertisements. In assessing complaints, the ASA apply the ASA Advertising Codes.
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