It was interesting to hear today the reasoning behind the name suppression of the Rena captain and second officer. Apparently, it’s because we’re all so upset that someone might lynch them if their names were published.
Well, they have been – just not here. So while that might sound like a good reason to give name suppression, it doesn’t work in the real world. But it is good to hear that there is at least a semi-valid reason to suppress their identities.
It reminded me of something I heard on the radio the other day.
If you recall, a man tried to jump into Parliament’s chamber. Now, John Key didn’t distinguish himself in the incident (and Labour could do well to recall that it’s the second fellow who starts the fight, they missed a good opportunity to shut up and be dignified) but I want to talk about what happened to the Herald.
The Herald‘s Audrey Young, sitting in the Press Gallery nearby, knowing news when she saw it, snapped a photo on her phone of the ensuing struggle as security guards and members of the public attempted to stop the man from going over the edge. The Herald, also knowing news when they saw it, published it. And as a result, Lockwood Smith has now banned them from reporting from Parliament for two weeks.
Publication of the photo was clearly in breach of Parliament’s Standing Orders, which prohibit filming or photographing interruptions from the gallery.
So the Herald broke the rules and got punished.
Now, the view across the blogosphere (as my limited reading of it anyway) was pretty much along the lines of No Right Turn:
This decision is not demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society which respects the freedom of speech and allows the public to see what is happening in their legislature. But sadly, no court can overrule the Speaker here. The British Bill of Rights Act 1688, which asserts the supremacy of Parliament, prevents it. Which makes the Speaker effectively a king, possessed of unreviewable and uncontrollable power. We need to change this.
Secondly, this shows that our Parliament is still in some ways stuck in the mindset of the eighteenth century, regulating itself like an exclusive gentlemen’s club with public scrutiny permitted by grace and favour, not as of right. This too has to change. It is not the Speaker’s House – it is our House, and we have an absolute right to know and see what happens there.
I realise that in some sense Parliament is a bit of a club. But when someone describes it as an old-fashioned old-boy’s club where the whole thing is to protect members…. well, we all know that it hasn’t been that way for many years. That explanation doesn’t satisfy me.
Then on The Panel that Friday, someone pointed something out.
Yes, Parliament is a public place, and we all have the right to know what goes on there. But what we want to know is what laws are passed, and what speeches are made. That is, must, and should be published freely.
However, because of that intense scrutiny parliament also potentially generates another type of news. That’s when someone comes to parliament and breaks the rules in order to make the news. Reporting on that is actually against the public interest.
Well, I’ve been to parliament several times. The first time I went there, the Englishman I went with commented that one could have quite easily have walked in with a gun and started shooting MPs. That has changed (they now have metal detectors), but the chamber remains remarkably open.
This is a good thing.
However, should people wanting to make a political point get the idea that all they have to do to get on the news and make a splash is to walk into the public viewing chamber and make a scene, then that actually makes it harder for New Zealanders to experience our parliament.
On The Panel, the person making these points also pointed out that the Christchurch Press used to report on vandalism around the city. When the newspaper stopped reporting it, the incidents of vandalism dropped dramatically.
So I’m with the Speaker on this one. I for one would have full access to the debating chamber, and have the opportunity to see parliment in action with my own eyes. It would be a shame to have that ruined because of some false sense of “freedom of the press” that merely served as a platform for any idiot with an agenda.