24 February 2023

The following examples illustrate how the principle of political neutrality, the Government’s right to govern and the Government’s self-restraint in advertising may apply to agency advertising and publicity in an election period. Each answer will depend on the exact context the agency is working through.

For further guidance, see Section 5: Public sector advertising, publicity, and the media.

Scenario 6: Social media campaign to publicise community services

Following an earthquake, a number of different public and private sector  agencies, citizen groups and non-government organisations (NGOs) want to advise the community of new and existing services available. A new website is setup and a campaign launched using Facebook and YouTube. The general election is to take place in three weeks.

Practical guidance

  • This is a business-as-usual activity that needs to continue.
  • When material is co-produced, the public sector agencies  involved need to make sure their part of the content is politically neutral and follows the Guidelines for Government Advertising.
  • If the public sector agencies involved have any concerns about the overall look of the material these should be talked through with the other organisations involved in the publicity.
  • The public sector agency may need to reconsider their involvement if there is a perception that the agency is contributing to political material.

Scenario 7: Correction of misinformation

It is three months until the general election. An opposition party has criticised a government programme, but the criticisms are regarded as being based on incorrect information. The agency involved considers the criticism misleads the public and decides to make a media statement to correct the misinformation.

Practical guidance

  • This situation requires careful consideration. The agency may get drawn into a political situation and may breach existing political neutrality principles.
  • Although the agency is setting out to correct misinformation, the involvement of the opposition party means that the response may be better to come from the Minister.

Scenario 8: Publicity of future services and benefits

An agency is responsible for a new programme which, if the current government is re-elected, will come into effect in March of the year following the election. The agency wants to start early with publicity so that all those who would be entitled to the new services and benefits under the programme are aware of it. The advertising will commence in September, which is one month before the general election.

Practical guidance

  • In this situation, it may be prudent to delay the campaign until after the general election, particularly as the implementation of the programme may be dependent on the election outcome. That will reduce any risk that the campaign is seen as not being politically neutral.
  • However, if the affected people need all the time between September to March to prepare for the possible change then this would be a good reason to proceed. If proceeding, the campaign needs to adhere to the Guidelines for Government Advertising.

Scenario 9: Consultation on proposed government policy that is politically controversial

An agency is ready to undertake consultation on a proposed government policy by publishing a consultation document on their website. It is in the middle of a pre-election period and the topic is an election issue with strong and divergent views across political parties.

Practical guidance

  • In general, consulting on a proposed government policy may be appropriate to go ahead close to an election where there is good reason to do so.
  • If proceeding, the agency and staff need to carefully work through how they will meet their political neutrality obligations to mitigate the perception that funds are being used to finance publicity for party political purposes.
  • However, if there is no reason to go ahead at this time an agency may consider talking to the Minister about a possible delay in the public consultation.