Defending the inconsistency charge

Clare Curran blogs at Red Alert and contrasts two statements from me:

My views are simple. No Government should censor the Internet.


”perfectly reasonable for programmes that NZ on Air fund to have small scheduling restrictions during politically sensitive periods.

While Clare obviously disagrees, I don’t regard my views as inconsistent. I don’t think the Government should censor the Internet and I also don’t think the Government (through NZ on Air) should be getting involved in election campaigns. I want the Government to butt out of using its huge resources to tell us who we should vote for.

I have no problem with “advocacy” documentaries. But if the taxpayer funds them, then of course it is sensible to have NZ on Air able to say “Avoid the four weeks before the election as we do not want NZ on Air to be seen as getting involved in an election”.

Think if NZ on Air had funded a documentary on how power prices almost doubled under Labour and how they reaped in $3 billion of dividends from state owned power companies so they could bribe the electorate with KiwiSaver subsidies, and a TV broadcaster showed it the Thursday night before the election? I can only imagine the howls of outrage, and the calls for the NZ on Air Board to be sacked.

Clare’s summary was:

So it’s ok to censor the broadcaster and use the government agency that funds it to restrict New Zealander’s access to well produced evidence-based documentaries that raise legitimate concerns about important issues facing the nation during an election campaign.

That was no evidence-based documentary. It got basic facts wrong. It was partisan advocacy.

Inconsistent. I don’t agree with the scheduling of many programmes on television. I certainly don’t think that politicians should be interferring in, when and if material can be shown on television during an election campaign.

I agree politicians should not get a say on when material is shown. Last thing I want. But the NZ on Air Board is independent from the Government, and if they fund a programme, it is not outrageous that they can say don’t broadcast this show we have funded three days before the election, as that calls into question our neutrality.

Now as many have pointed out, one of the board members is a National Party office holder. He is also a very experienced broadcaster himself with over 20 years experience.  One can have a legitimate view that no one with political affiliations should be appointed to the NZ on Air Board. If Labour wish to promise they will never appoint someone with Labour links to NZ on Air, then I would hope National would agree to do the same.

But regardless, the NZ on Air Board is more than one person. The Board is:

  • Neil Walter – Chair  (former MFAT Secretary)
  • Nicole Hoey
  • Michael Glading
  • Stephen McElrea
  • Caren Rangi
  • Ross McRobie

Yes Stephen has “political baggage”, but that doesn’t mean the Board as a whole is in anyway political. Worth remembering that they are the ones who actually approved the funding for the documentary.

Anyway the most interesting part of Clare’s post is not what she said in the post, but later on in the comments when someone asked why she was blogging on this issue. She said:

His comments on Radio NZ this morning with regard to censoring the broadcast media contradicts his comments on his blog with regard to the internet. I pointed that out. Hypocrisy is important to point out when one is a political commentator in the public eye as Farrar is, and when he is part of a group which is intent on censoring a prominent communication vehicle for the Labour Party.

Well that is a fascinating view of what NZ on Air is for. Truly truly fascinating.

Incidentally Andrew Geddis at Pundit also is critical of what he has amusingly named the Farrar Rule. I won’t respond in detail to Andrew as I have a plane to catch, but he does mention how the Electoral Commission rejected complaints about the documentary.

It is worth pointing out that no matter what the substance of the TV programme was, it is exempt from being considered an election advertisement by virtues of S3A(2)(c)(ii) of the Electoral Act which exempts “the editorial content of a radio or television programme”. It may have issues under the Broadcasting Act however.


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