Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler


On Cats and Coro

I have complained about part 6 of the Broadcasting Act before. It is an massive rort historically perpetuated by the National and Labour, and designed to ensure minor parties have a difficult time breaking the Labour/National duopoly, and that new parties will find it virtually impossible to break into Parliament.

It's creaky legislation, well past its prime, and very lucky to have been passed in the year before the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act was enacted, instead of the year after. But at least in respect of some of it's prohibitions it is designed to create a level playing field.

No broadcaster is allowed to give time to someone to run an election programme. Broadcasters can't give one party or another a better deal on ad space. And no-one is permitted to broadcast an election programme before "writ day". Which is pretty much why John Key had to talk about his cat and Coronation Street, when he was given an hour today on Radio Live.

In 2008, Newstalk ZB gave slots to Rodney Hide, Tau Henare, Winston Peters and Shane Jones. Shane Jones went so far his time was an election advertisement (as defined under the Electoral Finance Act). Winston Peters didn't go as far but his show (along with Shane Jones') was found by the Electoral Commission to be an election programme. The incidents were referred to police.

So Radio Live, either better advised, or just sensibly cautious, told the Prime Minister today that he had to stay out of politics.

What counts as an election programme? The definition is pretty broad, indeed, it goes beyond the election:

election programme means, subject to subsection (2), a programme that— 

(a) encourages or persuades or appears to encourage or persuade voters to vote for a political party or the election of any person at an election; or

(b) encourages or persuades or appears to encourage or persuade voters not to vote for a political party or the election of any person at an election; or

(c) advocates support for a candidate or for a political party; or

(d) opposes a candidate or a political party; or

(e) notifies meetings held or to be held in connection with an election

There's an exception later in the Broadcasting Act about how the prohibition on broadcasting election programmes doesn't restrict "in relation to an election, of news or of comments or of current affairs programmes," but giving over the airwaves for politics is over the line. But if the result is going to be like this, you've got to wonder why they bothered. And a note to Stuff: this isn't prohibited by "Electoral Commission rules", they're a offence created by Parliament.

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