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It’s censorship, John, but not as we know it

By Steven | August 15, 2008

Poor John Boscowan. He’s been censored.

I know this, because he’s got “censored” written across his full-page Sunday Star-Times ad opposing the Electoral Finance Act.

Yes, apart from being one of the few people in the country able to afford to express his views in 850 words in a full-page ad in one of the nation’s biggest newspapers, he’s been gagged.

And that gag is contained in the Electoral Finance Act. That dastardly law muzzles people like him wanting to spend money on political ads. They have to register and are limited to spending $120,000 if they want to publish an ad … like this one. Oh hang on. Not this one. No, this is an issue ad. It’s not caught by the EFA. So it doesn’t matter than John has spent more than $120,000, and hasn’t registered. In fact, his advice is that he doesn’t have to.

So what this ad really does is prove that you can still engage in some fairly nakedly electoral-type political speech without infringing the EFA. And John’s point was…?

Oh yes. “There’s much we dare not say, and you’ll never know what it is! That’s censorship. Pure and simple.”

“Dare not say” … because that speech is banned, and he’d risk prosecution for it? No. “Dare not say” because he’d have to register and be subject to the spending limits. So in fact, he could say pretty much anything he wants, but has chosen not to, in order to keep outside the EFA’s regime, which requires a degree of transparency and some financial checks that he doesn’t want to bother himself with. And fair enough, too. But this doesn’t look like censorship to me.

Fortunately for the good of the country, I am here to say the things that he fears not to. What he wants to say is: “Don’t vote for the parties who voted for the EFA”.

What? You thought that was pretty obvious, despite his transparent attempt to gussie up the ad as a plea to politicians to repeal the law? So again, we can thank John for demonstrating so graphically that the EFA isn’t censoring issue-related speech, even when it has a partisan flavour.

Well done, that man.

Topics: Censorship, Electoral speech, Protest speech | 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “It’s censorship, John, but not as we know it”

  1. Steve Withers Says:
    August 16th, 2008 at 1:25 am

    Agreed. I’ve made the point several times on my own blog that the EFA doesn’t prevent any person from stating their own views on any issue at whatever level of expense they care to incur….and I got that advice directly from the Electoral Commission.

    I’m only sorry I don’t have a few million to share my thoughts with all and sundry on a whole host of issues I’m interested in.

    The EFA’s stickier bits really only apply to political parties and candidates. The rest of us can do more or less whatever we please on any issue, provided we don’t tell people who to vote for.

  2. FletcherB Says:
    August 20th, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    John Boscowan has just been announced as a list-member for ACT, at #4.

    I read as a comment in a blog (and therefore of considerably dubious accuracy) that he had earlier declined to stand…

    Does his now being a candidate mean we have to re-evaluate already spent monies on anti-EFA advertising? Could it now be construed as “election advertising”?… not as a “third party” but as a party or candidate’s spending allowance?

    I know that I personally had not heard of the man until he started pontificating on this issue…. it’s certainly had the effect on me of candidate advertising…

  3. IdiotSavant Says:
    August 20th, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    Does his now being a candidate mean we have to re-evaluate already spent monies on anti-EFA advertising? Could it now be construed as “election advertising”?… not as a “third party” but as a party or candidate’s spending allowance?

    I was wondering that myself…

  4. deanknight Says:
    August 20th, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    Look at the definition of candidate advertisement. The provision applies retrospectively during the regulated period once someone announces.

    The character of the actor must be relevant to the assessment of whether its an election advert as opposed to an issue advert (I said as much in relation to the Tui advert debate (time, place, circumstances, etc)).

    However, surely the “reasonably regarded” question must be assessed objectively at the point in time the advert was published. Although the indentity of the promoter might influence that question, when the advert was published no-one knew he was a candidate so it must still have been an issue advert.

  5. Andrew Geddis Says:
    August 21st, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    No – Boscawen’s anti-EFA stuff isn’t a candidate’s election expense … limits on this only covers spending on a “candidate activity” (i.e. advertising that: “relates to the campaign for the return of the candidate in the candidate’s capacity as a candidate for the district and not to the candidate—
    (i) in his or her capacity as a member of Parliament or as the holder of any other office; or
    (ii) in any other capacity …”)

    Crusading against the EFA falls well outside this, I’d say.

  6. Graeme Edgeler Says:
    August 22nd, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    You might also enquire whether John meets the definition of candidate. As far as we know, he’s only on the list…


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