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Free advice for the Greens:

By Steven | September 30, 2008

Ditch the idea of taking a broadcasting standards complaint about TV3’s decision to pull the leaders’ debate after the Clark/Key walkout.

For one thing, you can’t complain about a programme before it’s been broadcast. For another, you have to complain to the broadcaster first, and, as this isn’t a complaint about an “election programme” (see post below), you’re into timeframes that will probably take you beyond the election. For another, TV3 is right that it can supply balance in other ways, including, actually, asking questions of the PM and Key that are pulled from the other parties’ positions.

You’re right to be sceptical about whether TV3 will actually give your policies much time on-air. You’re right that you won’t have the same control over what they broadcast as you do in a debate. And no doubt you’re thinking that the main advantage to the debate would have been the image of you sharing the stage with the major leaders, and you’ll never get that back. Still, you can’t complain about the decision to pull the debate. And a complaint against the two-leader debate will almost certainly fail.

What you need to do is keep TV3’s feet to the fire. Monitor closely the coverage you are getting and remind them of their promise and obligation to provide balance over the election period. If it gets too far out of whack, complain then, though you’ll still have a job getting your complaint before the BSA in time.

What about a lawsuit, like Peter Dunne’s one last election? No chance, either. The problem with TV3’s debate then was its arbitrary selection of who to include, and who to exclude. The judge made it clear that a decision to take the two leaders only would have been fully justified.

Still, you have my sympathy. I think the Clark/Key withdrawal was a spit in the eye of democracy. They’ve calculated the political benefit: I hope the public’s disgust with the tactic shows it was a miscalculation and they both lose from it.

Topics: Broadcasting Standards Authority, Electoral speech | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Free advice for the Greens:”

  1. dpf Says:
    September 30th, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    IIRC you can complain direct to the BSA for election ads. They have set uo a fast track process.

  2. Steven Says:
    September 30th, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    Yep, as I discussed in the post below this one. But of course the debate isn’t an election ad.

  3. Nick Russell Says:
    October 1st, 2008 at 10:07 am

    In today’s NZ Herald, John Armstrong reckons this is good politics from Labour & National. I agree. Minor parties are annoyed because leaders debates give them equal footing with the big parties. But why would Labour & National agree to that? This isn’t unfair/unreasonable, either in BSA terms or in public law. It’s just politics.

  4. Steven Says:
    October 1st, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Yes, but savvy politics isn’t necessarily good for democracy. The main leaders are getting three debates of their own, and that’s fine. But as a voter, I’m also interested in seeing them challenged by the minor leaders, seeing how they interact with them, and seeing the contrast of policies between the big parties and the ones representing smaller, but important, political viewpoints. There’s a lot that Labour and National agree on that they don’t ever have to confront in a cosy two-party debate. The moderator isn’t necessarily going to raise those things.

    And let’s not forget, the upshot has been the cancellation of the debate. Even better politics for National and Labour. Even worse for democracy. (Of course, TV3 can take blame there, too. I would have liked them to go ahead with the debate with cardboard cut-outs of Clark and Key wearing signs saying “Figured better for me to duck this debate”).

    So, sure, it’s a smart calculation. But that’s not the only measure by which I decide whether it’s a good tactic. I hope enough other people think likewise.

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