The rules on the use of parliamentary video footage for political attack ads look likely to be loosened, as long as the footage isn't presented in a misleading way.

Both National and Labour told the Standing Orders committee, which is reviewing the rules around how official Parliament TV footage can be used, that the rules were no longer fit for purpose.

The session today was at times fractious, with Speaker Trevor Mallard, who chairs the committee, becoming angry with Massey University Professor Claire Robinson, an expert in political messaging and communications.

Mallard was offended at the characterisation of the review as Labour's review - but Robinson later said he appeared to have misunderstood her.

Advertisement

The review follows a complaint by Labour about one of National's ads that featured footage of Labour MP Deborah Russell talking about philosophy and the wellbeing Budget.

Mallard ruled that National's ad breached the Standing Orders, which led to the committee reviewing the rules.

READ MORE:
Why photo of Speaker Trevor Mallard feeding a baby during debate went viral
House Speaker Trevor Mallard cracks down on MPs using Parliament's footage for attack ads
Barry Soper: National Party calls Trevor Mallard's bluff over attack ads
National Party defies Speaker Trevor Mallard attack ad ruling – keeps videos up

The committee heard the National Party's position, presented by former National Minister Chris Finlayson, QC, who said the current rules cut across the right to freedom of expression.

Former National Minister Chris Finlayson, QC, who submitted the National Party's position on the use of video footage to the Standing Orders committee today. Photo / Derek Cheng
Former National Minister Chris Finlayson, QC, who submitted the National Party's position on the use of video footage to the Standing Orders committee today. Photo / Derek Cheng

The current rules mean that the MPs in the footage have to give their permission, and the footage must be presented in a "fair and accurate" way.

Finlayson said it was common for all political parties to use such footage for political advertising,

"Many years ago, the House was in urgency and late at night, a National MP was on House duty, reading The Washington Post on his phone, and the MP for Wellington Central accused him of being asleep."

He said a video of the apparently sleeping MP was published along with the music to Wake Up Little Susie.

Advertisement

"Was that MP annoyed? Well, I was at the time," Finlayson said.

"A bit of levity and humour organised by the member from Wellington Central at my expense, frankly, is a good thing."

But he said footage should not be edited in a misleading way, for example omitting the "not" in former US President Richard Nixon's famous quote: "I am not a crook."

"Doctoring speeches is something that should be obviously avoided because you are potentially making something untruthful."

In response to questions, Finlayson acknowledged that National's position had changed; it had opposed more liberal rules when the Standing Orders were last reviewed in 2017.

Massey University Professor Claire Robinson, an expert in political messaging and communications, at Standing Orders select committee today. Photo / Derek Cheng
Massey University Professor Claire Robinson, an expert in political messaging and communications, at Standing Orders select committee today. Photo / Derek Cheng

Labour MP Michael Wood, in presenting Labour's position, agreed that footage should be open to be used for political advertising - without the permission of the MP shown.

"A member speaking in the chamber should be freely and widely accountable for the things that they say."

The best way to avoid footage from being presented in a misleading way, Wood said, was to forbid any commentary, music or text from being laid over the footage.

"Parties can use footage with commentary before or after. Fine, that's fair game. But the footage itself should not be edited."

Labour also opposed the use of different video extracts being mashed together in a misleading way.

Robinson took a different view, saying political advertisements should be allowed to be inaccurate or misleading.

"These are very clearly ads. These are not videos that pretend to be an accurate representation of Parliament. That exists already, in its unadulterated form, on Parliament TV ... for people to see if they want to."

She said it "beggars belief" that Labour wanted no commentary, music or mashing up of video extracts in its use of footage for political advertising.

"It actually singles Labour out as a dinosaur when it comes to the latest forms of political communication.

"Labour may not like the way it is being attacked by National at the moment. Labour may consider itself above that form of attack. But this is insufficient reason to revise the Standing Orders simply to suit Labour."

Mallard took exception to Robinson's submission.

"I'm exceptionally unhappy with your characterisation of this inquiry, which is done at my behest and not the Labour Party's behest.

"Your frankly offensive description of me ... I was offended by it. The decision to have this inquiry was mine."

Robinson tried to engage Mallard on his comments, but he cut her off.

He then asked her about an ad that featured edited footage of Cabinet Minister David Parker saying "I hate farmers", taken from a video clip where the full quote was: "The member says, 'I hate farmers.' I do not hate farmers."

This led to a further argument about what qualified as a political advertisement under the Electoral Act.

Robinson said that the ad should be permitted as long as it carried an endorsement from the political party running the ad.

After her submission, Robinson said that Mallard was out of line.

"I was responding to the Labour Party's submission. I wasn't attacking the Speaker. I wasn't attacking the inquiry.

"He seemed to take it personally."

Standing Orders are normally reviewed every three years, but the committee may decide at any time to change Standing Orders, and when those changes may apply.