Connecting the dots on satire, Parliament, and dirty politics

Danyl McLauchlan has a great suggestion for NZ politicians who really want to show their dedication to freedom of speech and the press in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack:

People might be surprised to learn that in New Zealand satirists are not actually protected by the law at all, …while it is illegal to use images or footage from Parliament that subjects the House to satire or ridicule. So if some of the New Zealand politicians or newspapers standing on their soapboxes … wanted to actually promote those values and campaign to update our laws protecting satire so that they’re in line with that of most other western democracies (a simple members bill should do the trick) that’d be lovely thanks.

Sorry for quoting such a huge chunk, Danyl, but it was a very concise post!

In 2007 the use of parliamentary footage for satire was banned, in a move so utterly ridiculous it made The Daily Show. (I apologise for the abysmal streaming which Comedy Central persists in inflicting on us.) Unsurprisingly, the two parties which stated the loudest objections to this were Act (back when they had 2 whole MPs) and the Greens. Michael Cullen decided to declare the media were “taking themselves too seriously” and Peter Dunne – Peter Dunne – got very snooty about mockery “going a bit far.”

(As a side note, at the time Gerry Brownlee said the rules were an “interim” thing and could be reviewed, so Labour supporters may finally have the “you’ve had EIGHT LONG YEARS” rallying cry we’ve been waiting for.)

This all seems like ancient history, but it gets particularly interesting in the light of John Key’s very strong, high-minded statements about the freedom of the press:

“The targeting of journalists going about their daily work is an attack on the fourth estate and the democratic principles of freedom of speech and expression, which must be strongly condemned,” he said.

Two immediate contradictions which were immediately pointed out by folk across the left were:

1. Um, what about that possibly-unlawful raid on Nicky Hager’s house? (Directly connected to the Dirty Politics scandal, and put a pin in that for a moment.)

2. Um, what about the police raiding four separate media organisations over the “tea-pot tapes” – a recording of this totally private conversation – then going “oh whoops, there’s no public interest in pursuing this case”?

But there’s yet another Dirty Politics aspect to this issue. And that’s the fact that since 2007 it has been illegal for you or me or even Patrick Gower to use images from parliament for the purposes of “satire, ridicule or denigration” …

Yet no action was ever taken over the fact that a government MP was taking nasty photos of other parties’ leaders, in the House, and sending them straight to WhaleOil.

So John Key can make all the bold, principled statements about press freedom he likes; the fact remains that his government has kept in place unnecessary restrictions on that freedom. He, personally, has derided one of our leading investigative journalists as a conspiracy theorist – and all the while his MPs are feeding vicious attack stories to their pet blogger – exactly what Nicky Hager documented.

What do you reckon?

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