As a long-term study is released showing that childhood poverty has generational effects and few manage to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’, National is quietly using its power to try to prevent programmes about important issues from being broadcast during election campaigns, after a documentary on childhood poverty upset them.
Unfortunately, I don’t mean ‘upset them’ in the ‘this is awful, we must do something about fixing child poverty’ sense. I mean it in the ‘this is awful, people might demand that political parties do something about child poverty that actually works and we don’t wanna’ sense.
What happened is that, after the NZ on Air-funded documentary was aired on TV3 on the Tuesday before the election, a single compliant was recieved from one Alastair Bell – who is on the National Party’s board, manages media and public relations for political conferences and was a senior adviser to Jenny Shipley. This complaint was taken up by board member Stephen McElrea, who also happens to be John Key’s electorate chairman and the National Party’s northern region deputy chairman.
“Was NZOA aware that this doco was to be scheduled 4 days before the election? “If not, should we have been?” wrote McElrea.
This led the board of NZ on Air to:
“seek legal advice on whether NZ on Air could require an additional clause in the broadcast covenant requiring broadcasters not to screen programmes likely to be an election issue within the Election Period as defined in the Broadcasting Act”.
As you know, most New Zealand programming, particularly of a documentary nature, needs some NZ on Air funding to be viable. So, the result of the proposed ban wold be to give NZ on Air – a government agency headed by political appointees – the power to say what can and cannot be broadcast during an election campaign. The restriction on political debate during election campaigns that National is quietly trying to sneak through is unprecendented.
Are the Nats upset because the poverty documentary was politically biased? No. If they were, they could complain it was an electoral ad and they haven’t. Besides any fool can see this was informative, balanced stuff – far better than a hacky, biased rubbish that passed for political comment from the likes of Clare Robinson on publicly-funded television throughout the election campaign.
So, if it’s not biased, what are the Nats so upset about? They’re upset about the issue being raised at all. They don’t want us to go to the polls considering the serious issues facing our society, like child poverty, its economic and policy roots, and its consequences. They want us to go to the polls thinking ‘gee, I like that Nice Man Mr Key’.
McElrea argues that “To me, it falls into the area of caution we show about political satire near elections”. Rubbish. The fear around satire would be bias, surely, and there’s no accusation of bias here. We should have more balanced and informative coverage of major issues before we go to the polls, not less.
But isn’t it telling that National views a carefully factual and hugely informative documentary to be a threat? Have they considered that if their policies look bad when compared to the reality of the poverty problem that it’s the policies that are at fault, not reality? No. Their solution is to try to censor reality just when voters most need to be informed.
When Key finally gets back from holiday, he’s got some explaining to do about why his party and government are secretly trying to dictate what should be shown on TV during election campaigns. Coming on the back of his extraordinary abuse of power during the teapot tapes incident, censoring and bullying the media is becoming a bad habit for the PM.
[huge ups to Scoop and Tom Frewen for exposing this before it’s too late]