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July 16, 2007 | by  | in Uncategorised | [ssba]

Parliamentary Salute

At the beginning of this month, Parliament passed a motion enforcing new rules – known as standing orders – on what can and cannot be recorded by photographers and cameramen in the House. Members of the Press Gallery had not been consulted, and consequently the rules include such gems as “while a personal vote is in progress a graphic to this effect should be shown in place of live coverage” and “in case of general disorder on the floor of the House, coverage will revert to the Speaker or presiding officer” (neither of which are presumably worth reporting to the public).
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However, the most controversial of all these rules is the clause stating that, “coverage of proceedings must not be used in any medium for satire, ridicule or denigration”. Breach of this rule constitutes contempt of Parliament and can carry with it heavy fines or even jail time.

The rule is supposedly to prevent unscrupulous journalists from discrediting politicians by taking their actions out of context, as frequently seen on programmes such as Nightline. However, there are no definitions for “satire, ridicule or denigration”, allowing politicians to allege contempt at their discretion. This will prevent journalists from reporting actual misdemeanours, such as abuse or offensive gestures, or wilful non-participation, such as reading newspapers or magazines while the House is in session. All of the above are behaviours noted by members of the Press Gallery and of interest to the voting public, but under the new laws footage of these activities cannot be published without fear of legal action.

Green MP Nandor Tancozs motioned that the “satire, ridicule or denigration” clause be removed from the rules until it could be accurately defined, arguing that “a more authoritative regime could … suppress criticism of itself.” This prompted a party vote, the Green Party being the sole party to vote that the clause be removed. All other MPs voted that it remain.
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Then came the backlash from the Press Gallery, the Commonwealth Press Union and a collective announcement by all four main TV networks to thumb their collective noses at the ban, saying it would erode democracy. Hours after the announcement, National leader John Key said National no longer supported the satire clause, despite being on the select committee that unanimously agreed to it. Key is seeking to have it put back on the agenda of Parliament’s standing orders committee. Now Helen Clark wants to have further talks on the law.

Perhaps she should have had these talks before Parliament passed the law.


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