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Parliament Supports Free Speech And Media Protection Changes

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Charles Chauvel
Charles Chauvel

Wellington, June 2 NZPA - Parliament has supported recommendations by its privileges committee to change the rules on free speech and court suppression orders, and to strengthen protection for the media.

The committee today released its report dealing with problems that have arisen in the past when MPs have breached suppression orders.

The report was debated and endorsed by unanimous vote.

The privileges committee, which deals with legal matters affecting Parliament, said the right to free speech was a fundamental principle and so was respect for the courts.

Committee chairman Charles Chauvel told Parliament that when an MP believed it was in the public interest to breach a suppression order, that right should still exist.

"However, we seek to make it clear that this should be exceptional...and to make the reference subject to the discretion of the Speaker," he said.

This meant an MP should first go to the Speaker for a decision on what he or she wanted to say under parliamentary privilege in the House, Mr Chauvel said.

The committee also considered the protection the media had when it broadcast the proceedings of Parliament or reported on them.

"In common with representatives of the media who came before us, we were surprised to learn that these are inadequate," Mr Chauvel said.

"This matter is not clear."

The committee has recommended that live broadcasts, delayed broadcasts or rebroadcasts should be protected by absolute privilege.

Fair and accurate reports of the proceedings of Parliament, or summaries, should be protected by qualified privilege.

The qualification is that to rebut the privilege a plaintiff would have to prove a defendant, in publishing, was motivated by ill will towards the plaintiff or otherwise took improper advantage.

The committee has asked the Government to introduce legislation amending the Legislature Act 1908 to strengthen the protection for the media.

It also recommended that the privilege loophole exposed by the Buchanan vs Jennings case be closed.

In that case, former ACT MP Owen Jennings was successfully sued for defamation when he said outside Parliament that he stood by comments he had made in the House.

The committee said the law should be amended so any MP who affirmed something he or she said in Parliament should not be liable to prosecution.

The committee's inquiry followed a complaint by Labour MP David Parker over the actions of ACT MP Heather Roy when she referred in Parliament to suppressed details of a case involving a criminal on parole who had been charged with killing a woman in a car crash.

Commonwealth Press Union NZ section representatives Tim Pankhurst and Tim Murphy told the committee that Ms Roy's actions had been in the common interest, and such cases were rare.

They argued against putting limits on reporting what MPs said in such cases.

The Government will consider the committee's report and announce what it intends doing about it.

As Justice Minister Simon Power said during today's debate that he supported the recommendations, law changes are likely.

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