Election period taxpayer funded programmes

The Herald reports:

wants to stop broadcasters screening documentaries on political issues in the lead-up to an election – a break from its usual hands-off approach which its chairman says is important for its reputation.

The broadcasting funding agency has obtained legal advice on whether it can include a condition for broadcasters “not to screen programmes discussing topics likely to be an election issue” before an election.

I don’t think taxpayer funding programmes should be interfering with the election, unless they are part of the normal news and current affairs of a channel.

Our electoral laws goes to great length to restrict the amount of money that can be spent in an election period. Parties are not even able to purchase television advertising time beyond that allocated to them.

The step was prompted by TV3 screening a child poverty documentary four days before the November election. NZ on Air had provided $105,400 for the Inside Child Poverty programme by Bryan Bruce.

Board chairman Neil Walter said yesterday NZ on Air did not shirk from funding controversial programmes, but had to safeguard its own reputation.

He said child poverty was a major election issue, and there was a risk the programme would influence voting.

More than a risk. The programme was factually incorrect and should have had an authorisation statement on it, as it was very partisan against National.

Now I’m not saying it should not have been funded. I have no issue with NZ on Air funding controversial programmes. But absolutely TV3 should not be shown such blatant propoganda a few days before an election, and if it is funded by the taxpayer, then fair enough to have a clause in there saying “You can screen this programme anytime in 152 out of 156 weeks, but just not during these four weeks.

“We are, on one hand, anxious to safeguard our reputation for political impartiality, and in our view that was put at risk by the decision to schedule that documentary just four days out from a general election. On the other hand, we are very careful not to interfere in the editorial content of programmes. Our legislation bars us from doing that.”

Media law barrister Stephen Price said a blanket clause preventing “election issues” was too broad and seemed heavy-handed.

“It’s much better if they just leave it up to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. The broadcasters already have an obligation to be fair and balanced and they know they have to be on their toes close to an election.”

But they can only act on complaints after the event.

TV3 would not comment yesterday, although in the documents Mr Walter said the broadcaster had “expressed its regret for having put us into this situation and has assured us there will be no repeat of the problem”.

Good.

And my views would stand even if the programme was a history of the union movement, and was an hour long expose on how over 60 years unions have funded Labour, influenced their policy and control their candidate selections. That would be a good documentary – but not one to be funded by taxpayers to show in election week.

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