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New Zealand Labour Party and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1996-134

Members

  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
  • R McLeod

Complainant

  • New Zealand Labour Party

Dated

11th October 1996

Number

1996-134

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Summary

A National Party election advertisement broadcast on Saturday evening 5 October 1996 focussed on the tax policies of some of the other parties.  Using the imagery of a burning cheque, it opened with the words ‘you’ll pay dearly under a coalition of Labour, the Alliance and New Zealand First’.  It also stated that ‘Labour wants tax increases’.

Mr Allen, General Secretary of the Labour Party, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the advertisement was inaccurate and likely to mislead.  Total projected tax revenue in the 1998/99 year, he wrote, was estimated to be less under Labour rather than under National.

Pointing out that the advertisement did not say that Labour wanted all tax increased and using Labour Party proposals to show that there would be increases for some taxpayers (eg for those who earned over $60,000), TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, the Labour Party’s Mr Allen referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reason below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the advertisement complained about and have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix).  As is its practice, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

An election television advertisement for the National Party used the imagery of amatch being struck and setting fire to a cheque, and contained the following statements ‘you’ll pay dearly under a coalition of Labour, the Alliance and New Zealand First’ and ‘Labour wants tax increases’.

The Labour Party complained to TVNZ that the advertisement was inaccurate and misleading as Labour’s proposals involved tax cuts for about 96% of income earners.  It considered that the best way to assess a party’s tax policy was to compare total projected tax revenue and, for the year 1998/99, National estimated a total tax revenue of $34.48 billion compared with Labour’s projected revenue of $33.85 billion.

In view of the matters raised in the complaint, TVNZ assessed it under the following provisions from the codes governing advertising standards:

i)   The general principle underlying all television advertising is that it should be decent, legal and truthful.

ii)  No advertisement may be misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive the consumer.

iii)  Advertisements must not contain any statement or visual presentation which directly or by implication, omission or ambiguity or exaggerated claim is misleading or deceptive, is likely to deceive or mislead the consumer, or makes false and misleading representation etc.

It also considered the complaint under standard G1 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which requires broadcasters:

G1  To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

In its assessment, TVNZ said it had taken into account the following provision in the Advertising Code of Ethics included by the Authority in its Election Advertisement Programme Standards.

11   Advocacy Advertising – Expression of opinion in advocacy advertising is an essential and desirable part of the functioning of a democratic society.  Therefore such opinions may be robust.  However, opinion should be clearly distinguishable from factual information.  The identity of an advertiser in matters of public interest or political issue should be clear.

TVNZ pointed out the advertisement did not state that Labour wanted to increase all taxes but that Labour wanted tax increases.  It also reported that it had examined the income-after-tax figures produced by the parties but, as they applied from differing starting dates, it was unable to reconcile them.  While there was no doubt that Labour proposed an increased marginal tax rate for those with an annual income of $60,000 or more, TVNZ said that from its calculations it seemed that the rate for some other selected groups would also increase.

TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

1.  The figures publicised by Labour and National cannot be reconciled, and in a position where we cannot independently determine the truth we have no justification for removing an advertisement which is not demonstrably untrue.

2.  Perusal of figures released both by Labour and National suggest to us that there is sufficient truth in NationalÕs claim for it to be justified in the context of an advertisement appearing during a robust political campaign.

The Authority has examined the advertisement closely in its assessment of the complaint.  It is of the view that the message contained in the advertisement is aimed at individual viewers and informs them that there will be tax increases should a Labour, Alliance and New Zealand First coalition form the government after the election. 

The Authority considers that individual voters, when advised of tax increases in such a general way, are concerned as to the impact of the increases on them as individuals, but in the absence of a reference which indicates increases across the board, would expect that the increases will be selective and will have differing impacts on different people.

The Authority does not accept the Labour Party’s suggestion that measuring national revenue from taxation is the most appropriate way to interpret an advertisement which is aimed at the individual.  That focus was reinforced by showing the destruction of a cheque for $100 – an amount which is relevant to an individual but not to the nation.

As the advertisement warned that a coalition of the named parties planned tax increases, and as the Labour Party policy included a proposed tax increase for a selected group of taxpayers, the Authority does not consider it to be inaccurate or misleading.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
11 October 1996

Appendix


New Zealand Labour Party’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 7 October 1996

Rob Allen, General Secretary of the New Zealand Labour Party, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about an advertisement for the New Zealand National  Party broadcast on Saturday evening, 5 October 1996.

He began:

National’s advertisement states that ‘tax increases’ are stated Labour policy.  The words ‘tax increases’ implies a general across the board tax increase.  This is clearly not Labour’s policy with Labour instead increasing only the marginal income tax rate over $60,000 (from 33c/$ to 39c/$).  In terms of average tax rates (which measure the income tax burden individuals face) Labour’s policy will mean that everyone earning less than $70,000 a year will pay less than is currently the case (ie will receive a tax cut).  This means that Labour will cut taxes for around 96% of income earners (this calculation based on Taxmod data which we have received from Treasury).

Arguing that the best way to gauge a party’s tax policy was to compare total tax revenue, Mr Allen maintained that for the year 1998/99, National estimated a revenue of $34.48 billion while for Labour it was 33.85 billion.

Accordingly, Mr Allen wrote, the advertisement breached Advertising Standards Authority’s requirements relating to decency, legality and truthfulness, and that an advertisement should not deceive or mislead.

The Labour Party, Mr Allen concluded, submitted that the advertisement should be withdrawn and the inaccurate statement expunged.

TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 9 October 1996

TVNZ advised that it had assessed the advertisement which referred to the Labour Party’s tax policy under the following advertising standards:

i)   The general principle underlying all television advertising is that it should be decent, legal and truthful.

ii)  No advertisement may be misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive the consumer.

iii)  Advertisements must not contain any statement or visual presentation which directly or by implication, omission or ambiguity or exaggerated claim is misleading or deceptive, is likely to deceive or mislead the consumer, or makes false and misleading representation etc.

In addition, TVNZ had also considered the complaint under standard G1 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which requires broadcasters:

G1   To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

Finally, TVNZ said, it had taken into consideration Note 2 of the Broadcasting Standards Authority's Programme Standards for Election Advertisements which records that the ASA's standard relating to Advocacy Advertising is of particular relevance to complaints about election advertisements.

TVNZ continued:

The advertisement we have identified as being the subject of your complaint is the one that uses the imagery of a match striking a matchbox.  The advertisement opens with the words ‘you’ll pay dearly under a coalition of Labour, the Alliance and New Zealand First’ then goes on to state that ‘Labour wants tax Increases’.

Being unable to reconcile the income-after-tax figures released by the Labour and National Parties because of the different dates from which the figures applied, TVNZ wrote:

. . . there is enough truth in the National Party advertisement for it to withstand scrutiny under the codes.  The advertisement, after all, does not say that Labour wants all tax increased; it simply states that ‘Labour wants tax increases’.

As it was Labour Party policy to increase the marginal tax rate over $60,000, TVNZ accepted that the statement in the advertisement was not incorrect.

TVNZ proceeded to give other examples from the figures published by the Labour Party which, it believed, justified the statement in the advertisement.  The National Party assessment of those figures as contained in its advertisements, TVNZ added, ‘tell a story of much more substantial tax increases under Labour’.

In summary, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

1.  The figures publicised by Labour and National cannot be reconciled, and in a position where we cannot independently determine the truth we have no justification for removing an advertisement which is not demonstrably untrue.

2.  Perusal of figures released both by Labour and National suggest to us that there is sufficient truth in National’s claim for it to be justified in the context of an advertisement appearing during a robust political campaign.

TVNZ concluded with the following explanation for its delay in responding to the complaint:

In closing, we apologise again for the delay in TVNZ responding to this complaint.  The fault in large part lies with us and our internal delivery system but I do draw your attention to a letter to you dated 22 August in which our Company Secretary/General Counsel requested that formal complaints be directed to fax number (09) 375-0900 and be addressed to him. Although your complaint was received on a TVNZ fax machine it was in an area where the import of the letter was not recognised and your message therefore consigned to an internal mail delivery system which proved neither speedy nor reliable.

Labour Party’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 10 October 1996

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, the Labour Party’s Mr Allen referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority for review under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

TVNZ’s Report to the Authority – 10 October 1996

By telephone, TVNZ advised that it did not wish to comment on the referral.