Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Earning that reputation again

Last year, following a complaint by the thin-skinned Gerry Brownlee about MPs saying nasty things about him on Twitter, the Privileges Committee was asked to investigate the use of social media to report on parliamentary proceedings. Today, they reported back. The good news? MPs won't be banned from tweeting from the chamber, though they will be reminded that tweets are not privileged and banned from photographing one another without permission. The Orwellian prohibition on using Parliamentary footage for satire will also be removed. The bad news? The ban on people outside the House from reflecting on the character or conduct of MPs or accusing the Speaker of bias will remain. The justification?

The rule that it is a potential contempt to make a serious allegation against the Speaker that reflects on his or her impartiality derives from the longstanding practice and tradition of the House of Commons. The rule serves to protect the reputation of the office of Speaker and the institution of Parliament.

Yes, we should keep it because its tradition. Like slavery, public execution, or corporal punishment once was. And it protects the powerful from the peasants! Yes, that's an excellent reason to do something.

Lets be clear: this is an undemocratic rule whose sole purpose is to stifle criticism of the powerful and deter us from criticising them. Its a sedition law to protect MPs (and Peter Dunne has explicitly used it as such). But like the now-repealed sedition law, if its required, then the protection is undeserved.

As for who they're targeting, it speaks volumes that the new guidance on "use of social media by the Parliamentary Press Gallery" ends with a warning that:
Any public reflections that members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery make on the character or conduct of a member (including the presiding officers) may amount to a contempt.

This is of course the job of the media. And our MPs don't want them to do it properly. And then they wonder why the public holds them in contempt? Once again, they're earning their reputation.