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Bad English

By Steven | October 29, 2009

Let me get this straight: TVNZ7 scripted this ad? What were they thinking?

I must say, my first response was the same as Graeme Edgeler’s: this might be an “election programme” under the Broadcasting Act. It’s an offence to broadcast a promo that “advocates support for a candidate or for a political party”. Interestingly, the other types of message that are outlawed mostly specifically relate to elections, but this one doesn’t. There’s an argument that a Bill-of-Rights-consistent reading would limit this to election-time ads. There’s another argument that this is simply promoting TVNZ7. There’s another argument that English is discussing policy not seeking support for National. But these all strike me as a stretch. If this became standard fare, no-one could seriously suggest that the law wasn’t being thoroughly subverted.

To me, the first 30 seconds of this promo are indistinguishable from a political ad: scripted, flattering, underscored by music, direct-to-camera delivery, full of spin. Under s70 of the Broadcasting Act, it’s an offence to permit such broadcasts (and, under normal crimimal law, to be a party to such an offence by encouraging and facilitating it… might this include Bill English?).

Interestingly, such ads aren’t required to show balance. So it might be an offence, but you couldn’t complain that it breached broadcasting standards.

On the other hand, if it doesn’t fall under the definition of an election programme, a broadcasting standards complaint would be problematic. What do you complain about? Lack of fairness to the other parties? They’re not mentioned or referred to, so the fairness standard doesn’t apply. Balance? That merely requires the broadcast of a range of viewpoints on controversial in the period of current interest. Impartiality? Possible, but the only mention of impartiality in the current TV code comes under the accuracy standard, and only applies to news programmes.

Quite apart from the legal side, this ad (and TVNZ’s unconvincing excuses) seem to me to display remarkably bad judgment.

And quite apart from that, how exactly does it demystify the financial crisis to learn that “we can beat the Aussies… it’s time to back ourselves and apply some old-fashioned kiwi can-do… Together us kiwis can do it”?

I’m more mystified than ever.

Besides, how it is Bill English’s “plain English” if it was scripted for him? And is “plain English” really plain if it’s ungrammatical?

Topics: Broadcasting Standards Authority, Media ethics | 1 Comment »

One Response to “Bad English”

  1. Graeme Edgeler Says:
    October 29th, 2009 at 11:50 am

    If this became standard fare, no-one could seriously suggest that the law wasn’t being thoroughly subverted.

    Hadn’t thought of it like that. If this is not an election programme, then there’s no prohibition on a political party paying for something like this.

    and, under normal crimimal law, to be a party to such an offence by encouraging and facilitating it… might this include Bill English?).

    I’d argue not.

    There are a number of offences under the Broadcasting Act, those that occur in the election period (e.g. paying for an election programme with your own money) are committed by both the broadcaster and the advertiser. But the offences that occur outside the election period (e.g. paying for an election programme with your own money) are committed only by the broadcaster.

    A sensible distinction or not, I’d argue reasonably strongly that a policy choice has been made to ping only broadcasters outside the election period, and using the normal rules of criminal responsibility to sheet home liability to parties would go against the legislative scheme.

    You can draw an analogy with prostitution offences. There always has to be a second party to such offending, so the legislative decision to sheet home criminal responsibility to only one party was followed.

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