Politicisation of the airwaves is causing the Prime Minister difficulties on two fronts today. First, Tom Frewen, who deserves a lot of credit for his work in this area, has revealed the extent to which John Key's electorate chairperson and NZ On Air member Stephen McElrea selected the topics for taxpayer funded documentaries. Of particular interest is a proposed documentary on Whanau Ora, the flagship policy of National's coalition partner - see: Frewen's NZoA Board Members Commission Political Docos. In response, Labour's Broadcasting spokesperson Clare Curran has called for McElrea go - see: Call for McElrea to resign from NZ On Air.
The issue is pretty serious, particularly at a time when the last remnants of non-commercial public television are about to be cut from the airwaves. There is a strong argument that traditional independent and non-commercial public service television has been replaced with taxpayer subsidised commercial content that is subject to direct political manipulation.
The other broadcasting controversy involves Key more directly, as his RadioLive broadcast last year has been referred by the Electoral Commission to the police for possible prosecution (although it is actually RadioLive who may be liable for a fine of up to $100,000.) It is, at best, an unwanted distraction for Key and, at worst, will reinforce Opposition claims that National gets preferential political treatment from corporates in return for favourable government policy. At the time of the broadcast the Government had just made a loan to RadioLive's parent company.
Electoral law expert Andrew Geddis has had a quick look at the decision and says its far from certain that a prosecution will actually happen, but it raises some interesting points. Was the Prime Minister complicit in any breach of law, and should the value of the broadcast have been declared as a donation? He also points out that RadioLive had plenty of warning about potential problems they might run into with the broadcast - see: You can't put Key on the radio...
For the second time in recent history, a New Zealand Prime Minister's electioneering has been referred to the police. This latest infringement shows the state's regulation of political activity is still ambiguous and problematic. Obviously the rules are unclear and National did not solve the problem when it replaced the Electoral Finance Act.
Over on the Opposition benches Claire Trevett (The question that stings like a bee) and John Armstrong (Brazen Peters back with vengeance) both have articles today highlighting Winston Peters' early dominance in the debating chamber. Meanwhile Vernon Small asks Does David Shearer want to be Tony Blair?. Small says that Shearer and his advisors are wary of making too many promises and straying too far from the path of fiscal responsibility, but says 'It would be good to see just one stake in the ground' from Labour's new leader. In contrast, Adam Bennett reports on David Cunliffe's views on the economy which are much more political and ideological in nature than Shearers - see: Cunliffe says no more deregulation.
Today's Herald editorial strikes a surprisingly conciliatory note over resolving the Treaty obligations issue. It says National should not push through the legislation against the Maori Party just because it has a one vote majority without them. As the consultation hui continue, there appears to be some division of opinion amongst Maori as to whether preferential access to the privatised shares would be enough to placate iwi. Radio New Zealand reports Roger Pikia, the chief executive of Te Arawa Group Holdings Limited as saying that while Maori might be keen to invest, the Treaty obligations must be sorted first.
Bob Parker seems to be running out of friends fast, with Local Government minister Gerry Brownlee labeling him 'a clown' for claiming that CERA could force them to raise rates and sell assets to pay for the reconstruction. Although Brownlee later apologised for the comment, he joins many councillors, media and thousands of ratepayers in expressing frustration with Parker's management. Underlying the name calling is a serious issue about who can make the important decisions in Christchurch. Steven Cowan says Brownlee is right in that CERA cannot force up rates, but says it can force asset sales - see: Gerry calls Bob a 'clown'.