Friday, May 15, 2015

Letter to the editor

I hope the Herald publishes it:
In your editorial of Friday 15 May you said that democracy would be better served if election broadcasting restrictions went. I congratulate you for taking this stance and implore you to keep it going.
The Broadcasting Act 1989 contains archaic and restrictive provisions that prohibit political parties from spending their own money on TV advertising either during an election period, or outside of it.

Instead, parties must go cap-in-hand at election time to a body that uses a convoluted formula to decide how much money each party can spend on their TV advertising. Many parties have complained on this unfairness over many years. It severly punishes smaller parties, and Act has been particularly critical of it.

Removing this restriction and allowing political parties to spend their own money is right, and democratic. The argument that parties could spend an infinite amount of their own money on TV advertising doesn't wash because of the cap on spending during election campaigns. If parties choose to spend all their maximum campaign spending on TV advertising, to the exclusion of billboards (for example), that should be their choice. But it is hardly democratic, especially during an election, for voters to be prevented from seeing more of one party on TV, and less of others, according to a formula set by the State.

The other very relevant factor is TV itself. As a medium for politcial advertising, it was great in the 1960's and 1970's. But TV itself is losing viewership to the internet and other electronic modes. Political parties should also be free to explore all of this advertising capability for themselves, within the campaign spending limits that currently exist.

So indeed, democracy would be better served if election broadcasting restrictions went. But the solution is not for parties to have an allocation of public funds for TV time. They should be free to use their own money in the way that they decide will best reach their potential voters. As you rightly point out, they may well decide Saturday night prime time TV is not ideal for their purpose, but surely only parties should make that decision.

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