Doubts about advertising muzzle political debate, say lobby groups

NZ Herald Oct 31, 2008

Lobby groups say the new regime for campaigning in an election run-up is frustrating and so confusing it’s almost impossible for them to know what they can do. Electoral Commission head Helena Catt has described the law as having a “chilling effect’ on political debate in New Zealand, and several third parties say uncertainty about what is caught in the net of “election advertising” has muted normal public debate in election year. Most third parties are running conservative campaigns in case they accidentally breach their spending limits by using ads that are later ruled to be election advertising.

…Family First’s Bob McCroskrie faced the same problem and said he was being careful in case ads he did not believe were election advertising were later found to be so. “If political parties with all their financial backing and advice can’t get it right, how are small advocacy groups supposed to cope? It has made people steer clear of speaking up. Election time should be for full-on debate but all the law has done is take out the voice of the voters and left it to the politicians to say what they think.” His group had to shelve an initial plan for a pamphlet for every household because the cost was twice that of the $120,000 spending cap. Its main focus was the anti-smacking law and “social engineering” policies, as well as others deemed family friendly.