Victory For Freedom Of The Press
Monday 3 Dec 2001
ACT Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks tonight welcomed the Prime Minister's apparent over-riding of the Attorney General in signalling that the criminal defamation provision is unlikely to surface.
"This is definitely a victory for freedom of speech and the rights of the media. Let's hope it's just face saving that Ms Clark hasn't admitted the provision has been completely dropped.
"The halt of this legislation is not deft political management by the Prime Minister, but a desperate reaction to the media's robust response. The Government has no other choice.
"The Prime Minister dropped her Attorney General in it, by demanding that this clause be included. Attorney General Margaret Wilson deserves the blame because it was her job as the Cabinet's legal conscience to blow the whistle on such a clear threat to free speech and open elections.
"Having seen how effective they can be, I hope the media now use their power to demand similar assurance that Sandra Lee's threat to coverage of local body candidates is buried for good. Section 135 of the Local Elections Act is, if anything, worse than the criminal defamation provision, and Sandra Lee has still not admitted that it suppresses freedom of the press.
"This has been a good day for freedom in New Zealand, but it is not assured until those who planned to suppress it have promised not to revive their efforts," Mr Franks said.