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Free speech during elections

  • July 24th, 2007

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.


  • Graeme Edgeler
  • July 28th, 2007
  • 10:53 am

Of course, many groups won’t even qualify for the $60,000 limit.

Most churches would probably be limited to $5000 (they’re unincorporated bodies with 16-17 year-old members, or international student members, or they minister in prisons etc.) and many other groups (e.g. the Campaign for Civil Unions) are in the same boat. They don’t qualify to register as a third party and the much lower $5000 limit will apply.

  • Jane
  • November 14th, 2007
  • 6:53 am

The problem with big election advertising is that no one can afford to reply. This happened in the last election when the green party was hit hard by leaflets dropped all over NZ by the secretive Exclusive Bretheren sect. The party had no way of answering the claims levelled against them in the same manner they had been attacked. Free speech is still alive. They are still able to say what they wish on any radio show, the internet etc, however they cannot use the unfair advantage of having lots of cash to sway public opinion where those been attacked do not have the means to reply on an equal footing. Having lots of cash to get your word out where cash strapped competitors cannot is not free speech. It is buying an unchallengeable (unless you have as much cash) right to speak which is in itself damaging to everyone elses right to influence the elections. Don’t let the big money people pull the wool over your eyes people. The media pander to them for advertising dollars anyway so those at the financial top of our society have their views heard more often tha most of us.

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