Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Broadcasting allocations

The Electoral Commission has announced its initial broadcasting funding allocations for this year's election. Last time round, they adopted a simple four-tier model: big parties (Labour and National), small parties (the Greens, Maori Party and NZ First), single-MP parties (ACT, Progressive, and United Future) and minnows (tiny parties outside Parliament, such as the Alliance and Libertarianz). This time round they've had to move to five tiers, splitting the "small parties" group into the Greens (who have 9 MPs) and the rest (who have 4 or 5 each). They've also put NZ First, which is outside Parliament, in the same category as United Future - unusually generous, but also nowhere near reflective of its polling. Its about as fair a decision as they could make, given the statutory requirement that allocations reflect the political status quo, but of course its not a level playing field. Which raises the question: if we think TV and radio broadcasting is so influential that it must be restricted to produce a level playing field between parties - which I agree with - why do we allocate it so it produces the opposite?

The idea behind elections is that voters are meant to decide between parties. But the present method of broadcasting allocation straps the chicken by giving some parties more than others. If we took the underlying premise seriously, we'd give every party equal time. Some would no doubt object that this would put the "serious" parties on the same level as the "non-serious" ones. I agree. But that's because I think the "seriousness" (or electability, or desirability) of a political party should be determined by the voters, not by the Electoral Commission.