Herald banned from Parliament for ten days
Speaker bans Herald for ten days for photo in Parliament
In a move believed to be without precedent, Speaker Lockwood Smith has imposed a 10-day ban on the New Zealand Herald from covering politics from its press gallery office within the parliamentary complex.
The Speaker handed down the punishment - to apply from next Monday - after the Herald published a photograph on its website on Wednesday of guards and members of the public restraining a man who was trying to jump from the public gallery into the debating chamber.
The suspension of the Herald's accreditation bars the paper's journalists from the complex, including ministers' offices in the Beehive.
Dr Smith said the photograph was a breach of Standing Orders which prohibit any filming of protests and other disruptions in the public gallery.
Herald editor Tim Murphy said the Speaker's decision was so disproportionate it was outrageous.
Lockwood Smith has always been an enthusiast of following parliamentary rules: remember when he scolded Russell Norman of the Greens for being manhandled by security from the Chinese delegation outside Parliament for carrying the Tibetan flag? Or more recently, kicking out Harawira for diverting from the Parliamentary Oath, even when many other MPs have done the same previously and not been rejected in the same way? However, Smith's banning yesterday of the Herald for a picture of a suicidal man for ten days is extraordinary.
The unusual occurance of a man attempting to propel himself over the balustrades was handled badly by the National Party, who used it as an opportunity to continue the petty point-scoring that characterizes much of the rhetoric of Parliamentary debate. Labour MPs accused Key of making a throat-slitting gesture. The footage of this can be seen online at TV3's website.
Banning the Herald six weeks away from an election from entering Parliament or MPs offices is extraordinary, and perhaps demonstrates that Smith would be better putting down his rulebook for a few seconds to ensure that democratic debate has a first priority. The ban starts next week and only lasts for ten days, and House does not sit again until the 25th, meaning that we won't be missing much debate. However, the banning of the Herald from Parliament buildings altogether is likely to raise the pressure on the National Party from the media, who will no doubt see this as circumventing democratic principles and freedom of the press. The media generally do not respond well to motions like this that limit the ability to provide objective journalism. For example:
Parliament ban over photo sparks media ire
Dominion Post editor Bernadette Courtney said the ban was "outrageous", and she would complain to the Speaker.
"It's an outrageous attack on the freedom of the press, it was a news event and the public had the right to see what was happening - you can't sanitise news.
"I will be taking it up with the Honourable Lockwood Smith. News organisations know they must obey the rules of Parliament, and breaches are few and far between.
"This was a news event, and news decisions should be made by editors - not politicians."
Smith was unrepentant today about what was thought to be one of the longest bans handed down to the news media.
"It's a serious issue. It's not as if they've just breached a protocol, it's a Standing Order of Parliament, and they did it wilfully," he said.
While taking the photo was a breach it was "not a hangable offence, but it was published knowlingly, it was published wilfully - members have to obey the Standing Orders, and so do the media in the Gallery."
It's somewhat difficult to believe that Lockwood would actually use the phrase 'hangable offence' in his response. This is perhaps a sign that National feels quite cozy on the back of the TV3 poll that saw them at 57.4%. However, while National may be currently on top, media coverage will swing sharply back to the election following the conclusion of the Rugby World Cup, and may be much less favourable than the glowing RadioLive coverage that saw him positioned as DJ for an hour last week.