Radio New Zealand needs to clarify position on Bomber ban
In what has been an appalling week for freedom of press in New Zealand, it is almost unbelievable that Radio New Zealand would ban Martyn 'Bomber' Bradbury from one of our only public broadcasters. The suicidal man in Parliament has ignited debate over freedom of press, with Speaker Lockwood Smith originally banning Herald reporters for ten days from Parliament grounds, a ban that would include accessing their offices. Smith came under heavy fire from media over this move, with many arguing that the ban, while reflecting guidelines on behavior on the floor, was completely outrageous and excessive. This cued Smith backing down somewhat. Banning a newspaper six weeks out from the election is entirely dubious.
Radio New Zealand's Editor in Chief Peter Cavanagh seems to have topped Smith's stupidity this week however by handing down a ban that calls the whole rationale for public broadcasting into question. Whatever your opinion on Bomber, the basic fact is that we should have a balance of perspectives in the media, and this includes encouraging debate. Not inviting someone on again because you don't believe that they were constructive to the forum is completely different to handing down a ban. And Radio New Zealand should be more aware of the territory that they are operating in here.
Initially, Radio New Zealand on MediaWatch claimed he had violated their standards of objectivity, an editorial standard that they claim to have worked hard for. However, this is absolute rubbish as they frequently feature partisan guests including Sue Bradford and Matthew Hooton, whom I would be stretching it to say they had 'objective' opinions. In fact, as a panelist there is absolutely nothing that he said wrong under the BSA's current guidelines for radio. The basic fact is that all politics are partisan regardless of your perspective - the day we all agree, we can abolish MMP or any other electorate system of choice and live in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers-type perfect unison. They are required to reflect all sides of debate by including guests from all sides, which they already do.
According to 'Bring Back Bomber's comments on The Standard, Bomber was banned for making defamatory comments:
I just spoke to RNZ CEO’s PA who put me through to John Houson (she said he was responsible for the banning) who told me Bomber was actually banned for making defamatory statements about the prime minister, and that Key might sue Bomber for defamation. He couldn’t tell me what statements were defamatory, told me to look at the script.
The Standard is now saying that Key may sue Bomber for defamation. If this is true, I fail to see how the comments can be construed as defamatory. Parliament's Standing Orders apply to the gallery and the forecourt, not to the filming or debate of politicians' actions, otherwise we would simply not have Parliament TV. They are designed to stop the public grandstanding over issues, not politicians (anyone who has watched conduct in the House would have to argue it is pretty clear that grandstanding is one thing that politicians are particularly proficient in). Key is already in the public domain, and should know well enough by now in his role as Prime Minister that his actions are under scrutiny. It is clear to see how edgy media were over Key's actions - first TV3 post them, then they edit the tape to exclude the throat-slashing, then they post grainy close-ups of the video with a forum for people to debate. I would personally rather debate policies, but there is simply no argument that this is defamation, especially as it already in the public domain. Defamation is actually pretty hard to prove under New Zealand law, and indeed there is the precedent that political commentaries should not be subject to laws of defamation as they may have the end result of stifling political debate, a judgment that was ruled during the lengthy case of Lange v Atkinson. If this defamation ruse is true, then both Radio New Zealand and Key should be looking to find a better legal team.
To put it simply, Radio New Zealand have absolutely no justification in placing a ban, and in doing so have opened themselves up to debate over the validity of public broadcasting as a model due to failing to uphold the mandate for their existence. That this is six weeks out from an election is ridiculous, and let's hope Radio New Zealand actually answer to some of the very valid questions of their current management.