The Monarchical Mr Speaker has muted media freedoms – but which hack complained to him?

Alf normally turns to No Right Turn in the expectation he will find something highly disagreeable and, more often than not, seriously disputatious. But then, what should we expect from an Idiot Savant?

Now and again, however, even an idiot savant can have a good day, and today the bugger has hit a rich vein in discussing the latest antics of “our monarchical Speaker”.

He recalls that on Wednesday, a bloke sitting in the gallery of Parliament – a seriously unhinged bloke, in Alf’s humble opinion – tried to throw himself over the railing and on to the floor of the chamber.

The Herald’s Audrey Young, sitting in the Press Gallery nearby, snapped a photo on her phone of the ensuing struggle as security guards and members of the public attempted to stop the man from going over the edge (although he had gone over the edge by going over the edge, if that makes sense, which it does to Alf).

The Herald published the photo.

Obviously this was one of those occasions when it recognised a news story coming out of Parliament.

Trouble is, Lockwood Smith has consulted his book of rules on these matters and – finding the Herald in breach – has banned them from reporting from Parliament for two weeks.

At No Right Turn, the matter is reported thus –

Publication of the photo was clearly in breach of Parliament’s Standing Orders, which prohibit filming or photographing interruptions from the gallery. At the same time, it is obvious that the Speaker has not considered the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act in his decision. As the voice of the legislature and an official performing a public function, he is bound by the BORA, and must therefore ensure that his decisions respect the public’s freedom of speech and that his punishments are not disproportionate to the offence. Any departure from these principles must be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”.

This decision is not demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society which respects the freedom of speech and allows the public to see what is happening in their legislature. But sadly, no court can overrule the Speaker here. The British Bill of Rights Act 1688, which asserts the supremacy of Parliament, prevents it. Which makes the Speaker effectively a king, possessed of unreviewable and uncontrollable power. We need to change this.

Secondly, this shows that our Parliament is still in some ways stuck in the mindset of the eighteenth century, regulating itself like an exclusive gentlemen’s club with public scrutiny permitted by grace and favour, not as of right. This too has to change. It is not the Speaker’s House – it is our House, and we have an absolute right to know and see what happens there.

Dunno about all that Bill of Rights malarkey.

But that thing about it being “our House” has a nice ring to it.

Trouble is, Alf has a snitch against huffy newspaper editors and notes that Herald editor Tim Murphy has become extremely huffy, saying the Speaker’s decision was so disproportionate it was outrageous.

“He is attempting to shut down the Herald’s coverage of politics six weeks from the general election for publishing a genuine news picture, a picture that had no negative consequences for Parliament or its members.”

He said the public had a right to know just how close things had come to serious injury.

The photo showed the efforts of members of the public to avert injuries all round, he said.

It did not risk bringing Parliament or its members into disrepute.

“If this extreme decision stands, we will obviously work from outside Parliament to continue to let readers know what is going on inside it.”

Another thing that causes Alf to pause before thoroughly endoring Idiot Savant’s post is that the editor of the Dom-Post has taken sides with its rival on the matter.

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.”

Bugger me. The two big newspaper groups already hold much too much sway for Alf’s comfort. When they gang up like this, they become insufferable.

Moreover, Alf is mindful that pissing off Mr Speaker can be contrary to his best interests as the member for Eketahuna North.

And he notes that Mr Speaker can muster a good argument for doing what he did –

“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 knowingly, it was published wilfully – members have to obey the Standing Orders, and so do the media in the Gallery.”

“The reason why it’s the Herald being disciplined and not just the particular reporter is that the Herald chose to publish the item on its website.”

Oh, and here’s another thing, when the bloody media get all precious about their freedom of speech and the public’s right to know – blah, blah, blah.

The Herald’s breach was raised with Mr Speaker by another Press Gallery member.

Ha. At least one Press Gallery hack is on the side of censorship.

Betcha the bugger is in no hurry to identify him/herself.

One final point: standing Orders, which are the rules in Parliament, forbid images being taken in the public gallery. As TV3 has noted, it is a rule which aims to discourage protests.

Damned right. If Alf thought taking such photos was allowable, he would have thrown himself off the gallery long ago in the desperate hope this would do the trick of getting himself some much-needed publicity.

UPDATE: Lockwood Smith yesterday eased sanctions on the Herald’s parliamentary hacks to let them stay in their office at Parliament during the 10-day suspension, but they must be escorted in and out by security and have no access to elsewhere in the complex. They will require a sponsor and escort for events such as press conferences and interviews.

One Response to The Monarchical Mr Speaker has muted media freedoms – but which hack complained to him?

  1. robertguyton says:

    One sticky shutter and it’d all be for nowt, Alf.

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