Thursday, June 28, 2007

Vive la Revolution

Politics is a strange racket sometimes. It sort of goes without saying that, by and large, your average politician (and most of them are distinctly average) is a fairly thick skinned creature. It's not the sort of career one chooses if one is easily hurt by criticism. For most politicians a personal attack slides of their hide like mud off a basking hippo.

But when it comes to the media it seems to be a different story - at least as far as their behaviour in the sacred precincts of the debating chamber is concerned. Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen is selling the new broadcasting rules as a liberalisation give that TV cameras will be allowed to show reaction shots. And, to be fair, that is a relaxation from current practice. However not extending the same liberty to still photographers is somewhat perplexing. the argument a single moment can be taken out of context has limited merit when newspapers can quite freely take a still from a broadcast agency.

But this is all a sideshow when compared to the fundamental issue. Blocking the use of TV footage for satire and banning any images that might denigrate an MP's image.

It's skewed from the beginning. A cartoonist, such as Tom Scott, is free to lampoon and a radio journalist is free to describe what they see in whatever terms they choose. Yet a TV journalist, or a still photographer, is not allowed to show what anyone in the public gallery can see. Doesn't this strike you as a little out of kilter?

If anyone in the public gallery can see what an MP is up to then so too should any other member of the public elsewhere in the country. However MP's are canny beasts. They know the power of an image and there's no way they''ll allow the public to see them as they really are. The behaviour in the Debating Chamber in Parliament regularly borders on the farcical and MP's would prefer that not become common knowledge.

Michael Cullen made the claim this week that Parliament is for debate, not theatre, though how he managed to say it with a straight face is beyond me. Theatre outstrips debate by a country mile in our Parliament and the Right Honourable Dr Michael Cullen is one of the practice's most well known exponents.

It's been gratifying to see the media thumb their noses collectively at the rules this week. Kudos to TVNZ, TV3, Prime, the Dominion Post, Newstalk ZB and others for taking a stand against the self righteous, self-serving, and hypocritical line taken by our country's elected members.

(oh and if anyone's interested Auckland Issues Minister Judith Tizard managed to sleep through most of Question Time today. She only woke when prodded by Dover Samuels who noticed the Press Gallery had their eyes on her)

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