National's RadioLive jack-up | The Jackal

15 Feb 2012

National's RadioLive jack-up

Heavily redacted documents (PDF) attained by Labour under the Official Information Act show that the PM's office had an active role in organizing the controversial RadioLive appearance on 30 September 2011 that the Electoral Commission has ruled an electoral programme.

But what is worse is that the PM's Office knew it might be ruled an electoral program, but was fine with this because the responsibility would fall on the broadcaster. A National Party internal memo states:

So the Electoral Commission has replied, and basically said they can’t make a judgment on a radio show without seeing a transcript. But they have been pretty clear about putting the responsibility on the broadcaster, which is useful.

The documents show that the broadcaster was not in control of the content of the show that has ultimately been ruled upon by the Electoral Commission as a prohibited broadcast. John Key as host and his communications manager who wrote the shows brief are obviously responsible.

Winston Peters is correct in that Key should have been referred to Police along with the broadcaster for breaching the law. It is only through a vagary of the Broadcasting Act 1989 (PDF) that this did not occur.

The issue then gets complicated, as a ruling has been made that the show has unduly influenced voters. How many votes were influenced by the show is difficult to quantify, but it certainly makes me question the validity of the current governments right to govern.

With a potential $100,000 fine if the Police decide to prosecute the broadcaster, RadioLive looks set to appeal the decision. They are likely to argue that they were not in control of what the PM and his guests said.

John Key's only defence seems to be that he said the broadcast was an "election-free zone" before undertaking the hour-long show that has been ruled a prohibited broadcast. He again used the excuse in parliament yesterday, when questioned by Grant Robertson:

This is yet another unacceptable subversion of the law and manipulation of the public by National.