Speaker Trevor Mallard yesterday used a Parliamentary rule which National had refused to change when it was in Government to order them to remove a series of video ads from the party’s Facebook page.
The ads use heavily edited footage from Parliamentary TV in a way which is against Parliament’s Standing Orders.
National Leader, Simon Bridges, was last night calling Mallard’s action a “chilling move designed to stop freedom of expression.”
But the Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins, said that when the Standing Orders were reviewed in 2017, a proposal to loosen the rules on the use of Parliamentary TV footage was “not supported by all parties, and one of the parties that firmly opposed that was the National Party.”
The rules say that TV coverage of proceedings must not be used in any medium for political advertising or election campaigning (except with the permission of all members shown).
Reports that use extracts of coverage of proceedings and purport to be summaries must be fair and accurate.
National’s Facebook ads fail on both counts. They include footage of Government MPs who have not given permission and they are heavily edited to make their political point.
Ironically it was Bridges who in August 2017, brought the rules back to Parliament for its final approval.
Mallard, then an Opposition MP, was not impressed.
“This is the worst and the least ambitious review of the Standing Orders I have ever seen,” he said.
However, yesterday, he deferred referring National to the Privileges Committee to face a charge of contempt of Parliament, to allow the rule which National objected to two years ago to be considered again by the Standing orders’ Committee.
“I’ve looked very carefully both at the report of the Standing Orders Committee, and at the slightly unusual set of Standing Orders on this matter that we have, and I am convinced that it is a matter that needs to be looked at, and things should be held in abeyance until then,” he said.
“The broadcasting through linking of any speech, or any question; I’m not suggesting that people can’t do that. What I am saying is that they cannot edit them.
“At the point that they edit them, there is a danger of them becoming an advertisement, and, until we’ve considered this matter, that’s not to continue.”
National knew of the privileges complaint last week, and POLITIK was told the party had called lawyers in on Friday to help prepare a defence.
That defence, couched in very legalistic terms, is contained in a letter from Bridges to the Speaker and released to media late yesterday.
Bridges specifically refers to one ad featuring a speech by Labour MP Deborah Russell which sought to draw an analogy between Greek Philosophy and the Wellbeing Budget.
National has heavily edited a version of the speech, but Bridges claims that the edit is not advertising but “informational”. (the full unedited video of the speech — an unusual but intriguing contribution to Parliamentary debate – is here.)
“In the New Zealand context, advertising needs to do more than draw attention to something or someone,” his letter says.
“It must intend to influence the choice, opinion or behaviour of those to whom it addressed, encourage or persuade them, or actively promote someone or something.
“The video in question does not do any of these things.
“The video does not attack or criticise the Labour Party or the Government.
“It makes no comment on Dr Russell’s speech.
“Nowhere does the video mention or promote the National Party.”
Britain’s House of Commons, from which New Zealand tends to derive many of its practices, has a much tougher set of rules applying to the use of Parliamentary TV footage.
It can be sued for party political advertising or broadcasts, election campaigning, or referendum campaigning the user has the “express permission from all Members shown” and they have (b) notify the Director of Parliamentary Audio/Video of the intended use; and removed any “wide-shots” of the Chamber or exchanges between political parties.
And the user may not “ edit, alter, add to, distort, or digitally manipulate the material in any way, except to select and reproduce excerpts from it or to make colour corrections” nor may the material be used out of context.
Bridges, however, believes that there is a wider public interest at stake.
“Furthermore, to muzzle an opposition from highlighting what government MPs say in Parliament is an undemocratic and unjust over-reach,” he says in his letter.
“All members of Parliament should want what is said in our debating chamber to be publicly ventilated.
“It is in all our interests that more people see what is happening, not fewer.
“Standing Orders and privilege complaints should not be used to prevent the public from seeing what occurs in the debating chamber, no matter what the medium.”
National’s Shadow Leader of the House, Gerry Brownlee had a subtly different take to Bridges on the issue during the debate about it in Parliament yesterday.
“The statements that are made in this House should be as public as possible. It is not appropriate to misrepresent them,” he said.
“But the question is whose judgment decides what a representation is?
“That has always been a difficult point.
“There was no alteration of the content of the speech from the member concerned.
(In fact, it was cut into clips and edited)
“There was no commentary over the top of the speech of the member concerned.
“Simply, a presentation of it, and the asking of a question.
The issue has been brewing for a while and is linked to the growth in so-called “attack” advertising by political parties such as the Australian Liberal Party during the election there earlier this year.
Dr Andrew Hughes, a lecturer in marketing at Australia National University found in a study that 93 per cent of the Liberals’ Facebook ads in the first week of the campaign were negative.
In a media statement last night Bridges appeared to be threatening legal action over the issue.
“Rather than a Standing Orders hearing, which will take months and is designed to gag the National Party, we will work to ensure this is resolved urgently,” he said.
“We are seeking that assurance from the Speaker, or we will consider other options.”
The election campaign appears to have begun.