John Drinnan

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Policing election day media ban 'farcical'

A senior political lecturer believes a ban on election day campaign coverage will be impossible to enforce. Photo / Supplied
A senior political lecturer believes a ban on election day campaign coverage will be impossible to enforce. Photo / Supplied

Political commentator Bryce Edwards has criticised bans on campaign coverage on election day, saying they are an aberration and unenforceable for social media.

Edwards, a senior lecturer in politics at Otago University, said there should not be restrictions and it would be impossible to police the rules.

This week the Electoral Commission spelled out rules for media coverage on election day under the 1993 Electoral Act. But the media world has changed since 1993, initially with blogs and websites and, since the 2008 election, the growth of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which brings into question how these can be monitored, let alone enforced.

Mainstream media - including their websites - are committed to following the rules. Earlier this year the commission issued similar guidelines for social media.

Bloggers Cameron Slater of Whale Oil and Bomber Bradbury of Tumeke said they would be complying.

Bradbury said that in 2008 there was an agreement in the blogosphere that that the rule was sacrosanct, but Slater said the commission's stance was farcical.

"I will not be blogging anything about politics on election day but I am going to leave my comments open. I am not going so far as the commission says in moderating the opinions of other people because I don't see why I should be responsible for other people," he said. "The commission have shown themselves to be toothless ... the chances of being prosecuted are always remote."

Canterbury University senior lecturer of communication and media, Donald Matheson, said the rules should be limited to people and institutions linked to political parties and activists.

Owners of websites have been reminded that they are responsible for keeping an eye on communication.

Social media consultant Michael Carney said there was limited room for monitoring but the guidelines were still useful.

"They cannot close their eyes to the fact that people are commenting on their sites," Carney said.

Up to this week the commission has referred nine matters to the police relating to this year's general election, though not all refer to media coverage.

THE RULES

* Electoral Commission guidelines say it is an offence, at any time on election day before the close of the poll at 7pm, to publish any statement intended or likely to influence any elector's candidate, party or referendum vote.

* "The Electoral Commission's advice to people using social media is not to post messages on election day that could breach these rules.

* "The prohibition of advertising on polling day enjoys strong public support, and significant breaches are likely to generate complaints," the commission said.

- NZ Herald

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