Kiwi Academics Pan Parliamentary Proposal to Stifle Criticism

29 June 2007

WELLINGTON: Like politicos the world over, Kiwi parliamentarians are happy to dish-out criticism and ridicule ... but decidedly less enthusiastic when finding themselves on the receiving end.

So much so that the New Zealand Parliament (above) has proposed new rules as to how it may be portrayed by the nation's TV networks. A contingent of democracy-loving MPs is eager to bar any coverage that satirises, ridicules or denigrates them.

Moreover, the new edict prevents political parties from using unapproved footage of each other for "attack advertising" in election campaigns.

Unsurprisingly, the nation's freedom of speech watchdogs are up in arms. Steven Price, a barrister and media law lecturer, believes it difficult to see how the proposed restrictions "can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society". He alludes to a key clause in the NZ Bill of Rights Act.

"I'm also astonished to see that [the new proposal] doesn't permit the use of material for election campaigning," Price adds.

He is equally concerned that the legislation makes no reference to the Bill of Rights Act, which guarantees the "right to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form [subject only] "to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society".

Price's concerns are shared by Auckland University law professor Paul Rishworth who enquires if it is "justifiable to ask what appropriate goal was behind the restriction and whether the rule was proportionate to the goal?"

Rishworth concedes there is a case for restricting the use of parliamentary broadcast images: "It does not strike me as . . . unreasonable that the MPs might choose to impose conditions designed to ensure that their broadcast images are used for the right reasons [to allow viewers to witness the democratic process without attending Parliament in person] and not used to denigrate them."

But he is concerned at the proposed ban on use of TV footage for satire or ridicule, "for these can be legitimate tools in the commentator's armoury for offering robust commentary; and freedom of expression certainly protects political debates".

Freedom of expression, argues Rishworth, would be better served without the proposed diktat: "Having a broad rule in place can deter legitimate speech, even that which would ultimately have been found permissible by a narrow reading of the rule."

The proposals were debated by Parliament on Thursday, although the outcome was not known when WARC News went to press.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff