Putting the Prime Minister on the radio for an hour to show listeners what a nice guy he is "appears to encourage or persuade voters to vote for a political party or the election of any person at an election". Who'd a thunk it?
Just a very quick note on the Electoral Commission's decision to refer the "Prime Minister's Hour" on Radio Live to the Police as a potential breach of the Broadcasting Act.
(1) It's just that - a referral - rather than a definitive finding that the law has been breached. In order to get that, the Police will have to decide to prosecute (by no means a given) and the Court would have to convict (again, by no means a given).
(2) The Electoral Commission must have reached a different conclusion on the meaning of "election programme" in the Broadcasting Act to that reached by the Broadcasting Standards Authority in this decision. Which shows that the matter is not a completely clear cut one.
(3) But that said, the Electoral Commission's decision has the potential to be the determinative word on this issue. Even if the Police don't prosecute, the fact that the Commission has indicated it will try to get them involved in future such shows creates enough of a legal chill to warn off broadcasters. I mean, is it worth the risk of potential prosecution, consequent legal fees and fine of up to $100,000 to pull such a stunt?
(4) But it's hard to find too much sympathy for Radio Live here. They were warned before they ran the show that it would have to be very carefully handled so as to avoid breaching the law. And while barring "politics" from the hour is one thing, sticking the PM on the air for an hour a couple of months from an election with a host of famous and well liked New Zealanders, all of whom engage in friendly banter and underscore the PM's everyman image, is political to the core. Or, put it another way ... if there was no electoral advantage to be gained from this activity, why exactly was the leader of the country spending an hour doing it? Is it an urgent affair of state for him to find out on air how Peter Jackson's Hobbit filming is going?
(5) Also note that Labour's complaint at the time that Phil Goff wasn't given an equal opportunity to have a show really was a complaint that if National gets to have an illegal boost to their election chances, then Labour should get one too.
(6) While it is Radio Live who are directly in the gun as a result of this referral, did the Prime Minister abet the commission of an offence? And is the hour's worth of free publicity to the PM a donation, the value of which must be declared under the Electoral Act? And if the value of the hour's worth of radio time is more than $30,000, why wasn't it disclosed prior to the election?
Right - that's it for now. Got to run off and say all this on camera to TVNZ, in a way that can be edited into an 8 second sound bite. That's why I'm paid the big bucks!