Thursday, 11 August 2005

Courts decide NZ TV Programming

Today's decision by the High Court to order private broadcaster TV3 to make room for two more minor party leaders in tonight's debate is a little disappointing, and very bewildering.

United Future leader, Peter Dunne, and Progressive Party leader, Jim Anderton, took TV3 to court, after the broadcaster invited just the top 6 polling parties (based on their last TNS poll) to their first election campaign debate. Labour, National, NZ First, Greens, Maori Party and ACT were all invited on that basis.

According to the NZ Herald, expert testimony from the prosecution said the poll that TV3 based its decision on "had a margin of error greater than the margins between the smaller parties".

No further details were given, but I wonder whether those "experts" actually understand what "margin of error" actually means... (ie. A margin of error of + or - 3.2% doesn't actually mean you can add or subtract 3.1% for a party registering, say, 2% support. It's a fatal error many people - including most journos - seem to make).

Justice Ron Young said he was reluctant to tell TV3 how to run its business, but did so all the same. He also admitted "it may not make for ideal television". He may well be right on that count.

Even juggling 6 party leaders in a commerical one hour format was going to be a tough workout for John Campbell. Now that TV3 have to squeeze eight leaders in, the debate could be in danger of being light on informed debate, and high on theatrics.

It also seems unfair to other minor parties who are polling above or around Mr Anderton's party... Destiny NZ polled 0.6% (above Anderton's Progressives on 0.4%), and I'm guessing others around that level could include Christian Heritage, the Legalise Marijuana bunch, and the Liberterianz?

If the judges decision were to be followed further, broadcasters could be forced to have 12-way debates?!

TV3's Director of News and Current Affairs, Mark Jennings, says he's "deeply concerned at the serious precedent this ruling has created... the ruling has significant implications regarding media freedom in New Zealand".

The decision surprised many others in the New Zealand media, and could have wider implications if left unchallenged. (TV3 say they're examining their legal options for challenging the precedent this ruling has caused, and will make a decision over the next few weeks).

I also wonder what this decision (by the same judge that rejected TV3's Corngate appeal last year) means for other proposed leaders debates on TV3 and other channels, many which were set to include just Helen Clark and Don Brash?

See also...
* Sir Humphrey's: Free Speech Is Dead

* DPF's Blog: Did the Judge understand Margins of Error?

* NZ Pundit: Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber v. a Free Press

* TV3 Media Release: Mark Jennings on High Court Ruling

* NZ Herald: MPs win bid to be included in TV3 debate

* Stuff NZ: MPs win case against TV3

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