Lee Drags Heels Over Media Gagging Provisions
ACT Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks today made a renewed call for Sandra Lee to take action over media gagging provisions in the Local Electoral Act.
“A month ago I wrote warning all newspaper editors on this matter. The Newspaper Publishers Association immediately voiced its concern, and was promised an officials’ briefing by the Minister the next week – yet this has still not happened. It is quite wrong for the Minister to sit on her hands like this.
“I pointed out the draconian consequences of section 135 while the Minister was forcing the Act through during an unscheduled sitting of Parliament on the morning of the Budget. She labelled my comments at the time ‘predictable’ and said she would get a legal opinion. She then claimed to have one, but said she would get another. We still haven’t anything the media can rely on. The Minister chose to push this legislation through under urgency – now she needs to show some of the same urgency in fixing her mistake.
“The local body elections are coming ever closer. If not amended, this legislation will place massive restrictions on our country’s newspapers and broadcasters during the elections.
“The new section 135 means that you are liable to a fine of up to $1,000 if you publish or broadcast comments promoting a local election candidate without them having had the opportunity to censor it. Radio talkback, as we know it, would be impossible.
“In addition, while you remain free to publish critical commentary on candidates, you could also be ensnared by this legislation if your commentary can be taken as an indirect attempt to promote candidates not criticised.
“This issue should concern ratepayers and any New Zealanders who want to protect the freedom of robust debate through the media. Most of us welcome the expression of opinion by experienced journalists who have to cover council meetings as long as its clearly labelled opinion. They will have valid and informed views on who is performing well and who isn’t.
“Freedom of speech is a fundamental right in our society. Ms Lee should stop the delaying tactics and repeal this and other provisions immediately to restore straightforward freedom of speech,” Mr Franks said.