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Party Leaders Exclusion 'Irrational & Capricious'

Party Leaders Exclusion 'Irrational And Capricious'

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Mr Anderton and Mr Dunne answer questions from journalists outside Wellington's High Court

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TV3 news and current affairs producer Keith Slater assured Scoop last week that TV3 was "committed to providing the best election coverage." Mr Slater was defending TV3's decision to omit from their upcoming Leaders' Debate the leaders of the political parties which have provided the Government with coalition and support arrangements - Jim Anderton (Progressive Party) and Peter Dunne (United Future).

This afternoon (Wednesday August 10 05) TV3's election coverage plans were excoriated in Wellington's High Court by David Goddard QC. Mr Goddard was seeking an urgent decision on whether TV3 was acting properly in excluding Mr Dunne and Mr Anderton from tomorrow night’s scheduled Leaders' Debate.

Mr Goddard advanced the proposition that in basing its decision to exclude Mr Anderton and Mr Dunne on a single poll, TV3 was acting "arbitrarily and unreasonably". The poll that TV3 made its decision on was published on July 28 with a sample size of 1000 people and a margin of error of 3.1%. The difference between being an invited leader and an uninvited leader was 0.2% (or two people).

Mr Goddard told a packed courtroom, which included TV3's political editor Stephen Parker, that TV3's decision to cull Mr Anderton and Mr Dunne was "irrational and capricious".

It was pointed out by Mr Goddard that TV3 was a national broadcaster that had taken on itself the role of broadcasting a Leaders' Debate in the course of an election campaign, and had assumed the power to decide who will and who won't be able to participate. By taking on the responsibility of the Leaders' Debate of its own volition, Mr Goddard argued, TV3 was performing a public function and exercising powers that affect the national interest.

The decision to omit Mr Anderton and Mr Dunne was seen by Mr Goddard as likely to have a detrimental effect on the voters in the 2005 election by depriving them of an opportunity to judge Mr Dunne and Mr Anderton's performance.

The importance of being on the TV3 leaders debate was stressed in this week's ACT Party newsletter ( The Letter), which is normally written by former ACT Party leader Richard Prebble.

"TV3’s debate on Thursday night is absolutely crucial for third parties. He who is not there is lost - so United's fate is sealed," explained The Letter.

ACT's leader Rodney Hide was the lucky minor party leader who squeaked into TV3's debate because two more people decided they preferred his party to Mr Dunne's in TV3's July poll. The Letter was enthusiastic about Mr Hide's chances because of his "great intellect, wit and good humour".

Progressive Party MP Matt Robson considered in his latest newsletter that TV3's decision was detrimental to New Zealand's democracy, and not just because his own leader had been omitted.

"There is no question that TV3's interference in our democracy will bolster ACT's fortunes among centre-right voters who won't get the chance to hear the much more moderate centre-right leader alternative, Peter Dunne," wrote Mr Robson.

A letter written by Mr Anderton prior to discovering he had been omitted from the Leaders Debate urged TV3's head of news and current affairs, Mark Jennings, to give his appeal serious consideration because Mr Anderton believed "important issues of democracy are at stake”.

Following Mr Dunne and Mr Anderton discovering they had been omitted from TV3's election coverage both men sent further correspondence to TV3 on the matter.

It is understood Mr Anderton only has so far received a reply from TV3.

Justice Ron Young suggested both counsels may like to get together and try and work out a solution. Mr Jennings released a statement this evening that suggested TV 3 was unlikely to be making any compromises

"We have reviewed our decision and, taking account of all the matters which those parties have put to us, have seen no reason to change our decision," he said

TV3 will present its case tomorrow morning and will comment further at the court hearing's conclusion.

ENDS

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