MPs tweeting and privilege

The Herald reports:

The MP whose tweet caused the Speaker to refer the issue of to the does not resile from his description of the Speaker as a “Mafia don”.

The Speaker has referred the use of Twitter and other social media by MPs in Parliament to the Privileges Committee to consider how social media use affects Parliament’s rules, such as contempt and privilege.

It followed concern from National’s Gerry Brownlee about an MP using Twitter to criticise the Speaker. He did not name the MP, but Labour’s had just objected to a decision by the Speaker, tweeting: “2nd week in a row where the Speaker looked like Mafia don running his @NZNationalParty protection racket.”

In his ruling, Mr Carter said MPs needed to be clear about the rules, which should be reviewed. Tweets were actionable in court and could result in findings of contempt in Parliament.

“Accusations that the Speaker has shown partiality in discharging his or her duties have in the past been judged very seriously, given the special position the Speaker holds.”

I think that generally what an MPs says on Twitter should not an issue for the House.

But I do think it is unacceptable to have MPs live tweeting from the House, making extremely derogatory comments about the Speaker, in response to his rulings. The place to interact with the Speaker is in the House – not to character assassinate him in Twitter.

The Privileges Committee will consider this issue. I don’t think they should over-reach and try to generally bring MPs tweets under Standing Orders. But I do think there has to be some restrictions around being derogatory of the Speaker during sessions of the House.

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