Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Make my day

Oh dear. Tumeke has noticed that the anti-MMP Vote For Change campaign's latest online advertising blitz (which of course relies on whipping up hatred of politicians) appears to be in contempt of Parliament. The reason? The videos use footage of MPs from the ParliamentTV feed, whose terms and conditions forbid using footage for

political advertising or election campaigning (except with the permission of all members shown) satire, ridicule or denigration, commercial sponsorship or commercial advertising.
These terms and conditions aren't just a contractual matter between Parliament and broadcasters; they're part of the Standing Orders. Violating them is a contempt.

But before anyone laughs too loudly, you might want to consider whether these rules are appropriate in a democracy. I don't think they are. What goes on in Parliament is not the private affair of MPs, which we are permitted to watch by grace and favour, but public business, to which access is a fundamental right. Prohibiting its use in political advertisements forbids us from hoisting MPs by their own petards, showing their own misbehaviour and stupidity. As for the ban on "satire, ridicule or denigration", I'm sorry, but that goes with the territory; if MPs don't want to be satirised, ridiculed and denigrated, then they shouldn't be MPs. Instead, of course, they have abused their power to forbid criticism of themselves - and that is something we should not tolerate.

The good news is that we have a Bill of Rights Act in this country, which affirms a right to freedom of expression. Parliament is bound by that Act, both in its lawmaking, and its administrative decisions. Since they are not set in statute, any part of these terms and conditions which is odious to the BORA (or merely unreasonable) can be overturned by the courts. And that, I think, is exactly what will happen if any MP feels like progressing this complaint.

So go on, make my day. I'd love to see Parliament castrated. And I'd savour it all the more if it was brought about by their own arrogance.