Advance NZ/NZ Public Party election advertisements claiming COVID-19's death rate is comparable to the seasonal flu have been ruled "unfounded and socially irresponsible".
The advertisements appeared in NZME-owned newspapers Te Awamutu Courier, Bay of Plenty Times and Northern Advocate.
NZME will comply with an Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) order that the adverts do not run again - but party co-leader Jami-Lee Ross says Advance NZ/NZPP will not comply with the ruling.
"The ASA should not be trying to interfere in election debate and the free speech of political parties," he told Newsroom.
"They have no standing in regulating free speech. The evidence to back up our claims were in the advert in question at the bottom. We stand by the ads' content."
The advertisement was headed "Update COVID-19" with red and white diagonal stripes - similar to the design of the official Government messages about the virus.
"COVID-19 DEATH RATE NOW KNOWN TO BE COMPARABLE TO SEASONAL FLU," it continued.
"Yet in New Zealand: Rising Cases = Rolling Lockdowns Refusing Mask = Expensive Fine Refusing Test = Longer Detention Refusing Detention=Go to Prison".
At the bottom of the advertisement there are qualifiers in small print for some of the statements made in the main body of the advertisement.
The ASA ruled the evidence cited is "not supported by widely published scientific evidence".
It also said the advertisement was likely to cause "distress without justification".
"The effect of the unsubstantiated claim was to unjustifiably trivialise the health impacts of COVID-19, which could cause distress among those who have made sacrifices, losses or experienced hardship as a consequence of complying with official guidelines to protect whanau, communities and society from COVID-19."
The design of the advertisement had "potential" to confuse some consumers into thinking the misleading claim was from an official source, said some board members.
Advance NZ/NZPP was given a chance to respond to the ASA complaint but "no substantive response was received" reads the ruling.