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BSA Threat To Free Speech

BSA Threat To Free Speech

Friday 4 Jul 2003 Stephen Franks Press Releases -- Broadcasting

Every New Zealander interested in robust political debate should be worried by the Broadcasting Standards Authority ACT New Zealand Associate Broadcasting Spokesman Stephen Franks today.

"Today's decision upholding complaints against TV3 bleeds free speech with a thousand procedural cuts. The law uses fine aspirational words like `balance' and `fairness' to judge interviews in hindsight, but the effect is to squelch debate in the future," Mr Franks said.

"TV3 gave us the most revealing event of an otherwise stage-managed election. The subject was almost irrelevant. The important thing was for voters to see how their leader dealt with pressure and challenge. That it might have been `unfair', and an `ambush', should never be a matter for legal punishment. New Zealanders will make up their own minds on that kind of behaviour which, used too frequently, will discredit the channel.

"Do we think New Zealand's enemies, or those who oppose the rule of law inside New Zealand, will be fair, reasonable and polite? A Prime Minister has to deal with them. The chance to see a Prime Minister - who had been idolised until then - under realistic pressure, was the greatest contribution TV3 made to the election.

"It wasn't as if it were the last day of the election. Ms Clark had plenty of time to rebut TV3's inaccuracies, and did so. Ministers use `balance' to stifle discussion. If they don't want a story to run, they decline to front up. Then the broadcaster won't run the story at all, in case they are accused of lack of balance because only non-Government views are expressed.

"The Broadcasting Standards Act lets politicians appoint like-minded mates to shelter them. However hard they try to be objective and judicial when deciding to thump TV3, the appearance of censorship remains. They are expressing subjective feelings about what happened. These rulings, and the expense and distraction of such proceedings, can be used by the powerful to threaten journalists who don't make them look good.

"There is a proper role for a BSA, but a small one only. It should be confined to restoring the political neutrality and impartiality of State-owned broadcasters TVNZ and Radio New Zealand. They use our money to peddle Labour's politically correct line. If the BSA were really serving broadcasting standards, it would ensure we did not have to endure the solid `Pravda weekends' of soft Left propaganda on RNZ. The BSA should stick to the tax-paid sector," Mr Franks said.


For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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