There is no more important time for free speech than during elections. That is when people must be free to try to persuade others on who should represent them. That is when the people must be free to challenge, to remind each other about, to praise and to castigate the deeds, misdeeds, attitudes and attributes of candidates and parties. The election is the peoples’ only chance to control those who will thereafter be their masters.
The new Bill turns that on its head. It says that the election is a sport reserved for the masters, for the politicians and their incumbent parties. Henceforth the election is the politicians’ arena. The people will be permitted to play there only as a patronising curtain raiser.
Effective communication costs money. So spending limits will ensure the outsiders’ voice can not be effective. $60,000 would not pay for the first day of the brand launch of a dog sausage.
The politicians responsible for this are suppressing challenges by pesky independent groups. Groups like Sensible Sentencing, Greenpeace, Federated Farmers, Forest and Bird, Manufacturers Federation, the teacher unions, doctor organisations, the RSA must be stopped from developing policy and urging parties to endorse it, then urging voters to support or oppose parties accordingly. Under the corrupt gang now drafting our law all those groups will be gagged at election time.
“But they are still free to speak” say the censors. ” It is only unauthorised leafletting and paid advertising they can’t do. They can be reported by the media”. And so we get to the nub of it. The media, so quick to trumpet their committment to freedom to report as they like from the House, have been suspiciously quiet on election spending.
Because when the people are not allowed to communicate in their own words, directly to their fellow citizens, they can only communicate through the media filter. And so the journalists decide what the election is fought on. They control how things are reported. The news editors of TV 1 and TV3 decide whether the election issues will be smacking, or GM corn, or Iraq or politicisation of the public service.
The current left wing thinks it will not matter that its allies are nominally muzzled. They are confident that the conscious or subconscious bias of their politically correct media ”co-religionists” will control the agenda anyway.
They could be making a big mistake. Ceding control of our election agendas to the media could backfire on the left. While the current generation of journalists will safely downplay isues like political corruption, and the concerns of ‘nasty christians’ and rednecks, that may not last.
The next generation of journalists may share the view that the dumb punters and the “moneyed interests” should not ‘interfere’ in the tournament restricted to the media and the professional politicians.
Though the media may choose different subjects, the people will still be spectators, not players.