Hard News by Russell Brown


Media3: Parliament Live

I doubt that anyone would have anticipated that one of 2013's television hits would have been captured by the cameras of Parliament TV, yet that is what happened. In concert with a level of social media chatter usually reserved for TV talent quests and major sporting events, the final reading of the Marriage Amendment Bill played out last month as a surprising feel-good live broadcast event.

The waiata was heard around the world, and Maurice Williamson became, as had Chris Auchinvole at the bill's previous reading, an unlikely star.

The seeds for that prime-time spectacle lie in the regular coverage of Parliamentary Question Time, which plays to a smaller audience but enjoys the same real-time buzz. It is watched, and it drives the daily political conversation in a substantial way. The excellent service provided by In The House, which bundles up proceedings for time-shifted viewing on the internet, makes it even more useful.

Live Parliamentary coverage is now so established that Radio New Zealand is reportedly planning a bid to expand the scope of Parliament TV itself, into an equivalent of the US C-Span channel.

And yet, it's worth recalling how controversial the idea of full-time live TV coverage was before its introduction six years ago.

When the idea was first proposed in 2001, Richard Prebble saw it as a way to curb the mischievous use of news cameras in the House, and it cameras were still a hot issue in 2003, when the standing orders committee reviewed the rules around media coverage. When it was proposed in 2005 that permission for independent news cameras be revoked when the new automated Parliamentary system was introduced, TV3 went into outright revolt, screening pictures of a sleeping David Benson Pope as a protest against the proposal. The fuss was enough to crack the all-party agreement that had decided on exclusivity for the official cameras when the system was commissioned in 2003.

Ironically, the networks now rely on the taxpayer-funded system and seem only rarely to bother with their own news cameras in the House. By the same token, the strict rules on what can be shown have been formally (and perhaps informally) eased. The system seems to work.

So how has it affected the conduct of the House and the behaviour of MPs? How has it altered our own sense of engagement with the Parliament?

I'll be joined on Media3 this week by Sean Plunket and Duncan Garner to discuss the era of Parliament TV -- and Jose Barbosa has been to Wellington to look at how the coverage is produced.


Also this week, I'll be talking to Clare Bradley, the chair of the Online Media Standards Authority, the new independent body established by broadcasters to field complaints about their online news and current affairs. It officially launches on July 1-- but has it already been made irrelevant by the Law Commission's recommendation for a single independent news media standards body across all media?


If you'd like to join us for tomorrow's Media3 recording, we'll need you to come to the first floor of the Villa Dalmacija, 10 New North Road, Aucland, at 5.30pm.

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