Hard News by Russell Brown


Looking for Monsters

I'm sure Annette King was speaking in good faith when she said that the Electoral Finance Bill would be amended to remove what amounts to a new ban on advocating through a megaphone. I don't think the select committee majority really meant to do this -- as Graeme Edgeler pointed out in comments here yesterday, it would rule out meet-the-candidates meetings, and Metiria Turei says it was actually intended to cover those irritating car-mounted loudhailers. But it's an example of what a shambolic path this legislation continues to take.

I'm not so sure there's a problem with anonymous blog comments: as I see it, like letters to the editor in a newspaper, they'd be considered part of the publication which, as either a blog or an internet news media publication, is specifically protected in the bill. (One of the reasons APN Online is so antsy about full-fledged discussion forums is precisely that potentially defamatory comments by members of the public are considered part of its publication.)

But others take a different view. Graeme thinks these things can be fixed "with the deletion or addition of only a few words," and I've invited him to write a post suggesting what those words might be.

It's true that most of these things will be honoured in the breach anyway -- as Graeme's COG colleague Steven Price noted this morning, no one's actually going to be prosecuted for not having their name and address on a placard -- but that's hardly the point. And the legislators have created this problem for themselves with their approach.

That said, unlike many of its critics, I support the objectives of the bill, and regard it as important that it's in place for next year's election. It has to be fairly comprehensive -- big money is good at finding loopholes, as the extensive use of anonymous trusts to obscure the source of millions of dollars in contributions in recent elections testifies.

As Brent Edwards pointed out on Checkpoint last night, an amendment already signalled by King will actually give third-party lobby groups considerable leeway. It will shorten the deadline for third-party registration to three weeks, meaning that such groups will be able to bang away on issues for most of the year, then register and switch to a more partisan campaign message for the three months till polling day. I'm sure most of them will.

[That last part wasn't correct. See the comments.]

I also had a look at the British system, which is in many respects similar to the EFB. The sky hasn't fallen in on free speech there, but the British electoral commission is able to oversee a remarkable degree of transparency in campaigning, and that's a good thing.

But we shouldn't be depending on the whole-of-house committee to fix new and remaining problems over a few days in Parliament.

On another topic entirely, viewing Hamish Keith's The Big Picture has filed me with joy. It's intelligent, surprising and informative -- and a refreshing contrast to the we're-here-to-help history by committee of Frontier of Dreams.

If you missed the first episode on Sunday night, and you happen to have Freeview, you can see it on Thursday on TVNZ 6. Unfortunately, it won't turn up on TVNZ ondemand: TVNZ has been unable to clear all the rights in the programme for online use. Which I guess leaves only piracy as an option.

Thanks to the vagaries of NCEA assessment, I now have two boys at home. Rather than let them stay inside on a lovely afternoon yesterday, I took them off for a round of mini-golf and a swim at Parnell Baths (for them, not me -- I'm still getting over the flu). There was a man in the pool in a suit and tie, which I thought was quite odd.

And this morning, we all bonded over the new Cloverfield trailer. I downloaded the 1080p HD version (I love my new iMac so much) and we played it and then freeze-framed our way though to try and spot whatever it is that's laying waste to New York.

Conclusions? Those silhouettes you see around 1.11 aren't "mini monsters" like Ain't It Cool News reckons: they're guys in bio-suits, alright? But that thing at 1.29? That's a monster. A big one. I'm keen on the angry alien whale theory.

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