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MP promotes own agenda on local news website

Jul 7th, 2008 | By | Category: News

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A NATIONAL backbencher has been filing news stories on one of New Zealand’s first local news websites – the Flying Pickle in Wellington’s Ohariu-Belmont electorate – and the Electoral Commission says that may be a breach of the Electoral Finance Act.

But unless the commission receives a complaint, it says it won’t be making a ruling on whether National list MP Katrina Shanks is using the site for unauthorised political advertising.

Although blogs and personal views are exempt from the EFA, any promotion of a party or candidate not defined within these areas could be in breach of the act, says Electoral Commission chief executive Dr Helena Catt.

Labour rival Charles Chauvel said someone alerted his staff to Ms Shanks’ use of the site: “My campaign manager told me about it last week, after a Korokoro resident mentioned to her that Katrina Shanks was using it to get herself a lot of free publicity.”

He applauded Ms Shanks for finding new ways to publicise her message, but said there “may be a risk of being seen as advertising or endorsing that party or candidate’s message”.

In that case, Ms Shanks and the National party risked having to account for the cost of the use of the website.

Ms Shanks declined to comment, saying she had “been advised not to, due to the EFA issues”.

The Flying Pickle describes itself as “a free community website for suburbs of Korokoro, Maungaraki and Normandale”.

University of Otago electoral law expert Andrew Geddis said there was little legal certainty around the issue.

“Exactly what is and isn’t covered by [the Act] is unclear and hasn’t yet been defined by the Electoral Commission or the courts.”

Some of Ms Shanks’ posts on the website are presented as news – using a byline and standard journalistic format – and have attacked the Labour party while promoting herself and her party.

In an article entitled “Maternity Care Survey Just Labour Spin”, Ms Shanks wrote: “Associate Health Minister Steve Chadwick is completely out of touch,” and she attacked Labour’s heralding of a recent survey as “misleading comments from misguided Ministers”.

Another article, entitled “More mums pay for Labour’s workforce crisis”, criticised Labour policy as “utterly failed” and promoted National, which she claimed “proposes a number of measures to start tackling the health workforce crisis”.

The Act says election advertisements that promote parties or candidates must be authorised in writing by the party’s financial agent.

Ms Shanks does not provide contact details for herself or National’s chief financial agent on the website.

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Flying Pickle

PICTURE: Taken from Parliamentary website.

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6 comments
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  1. Why the f*** didn’t any of the main news providers publish anything about this issue. good job Reesh! keep up the good work

  2. Go get your facts right before publishing this nonsense.

  3. [...] Some of Ms Shanks’ articles criticise the Labour government. (Read more) [...]

  4. [...] we turn to an article on Newswrire about a possible EFA breach by National MP Katrina [...]

  5. Interesting story, pity the website in question is upset. It certainly doesn’t seem like an attack on the website itself. Shanks is entitled to her opinion, but it seems the way she is going about it may be wrong (although as stated, the legalities of the EFA in this regard have likely been untested in court).

    Overall, good points made, and despite what some might, appears quite well researched. And it is a shame some of these stories aren’t made more widely available. Its not only Labour that should be held accountable as elected officials (after all we pay all of the Parliament wages, not just the Government).

    Could we have the next Nicky Hager here?

  6. I dont know who I am going to vote for, but as a communication tool I see Flying Pickle as a valid forum for any subject matter that may concern members of the local community.

    Pretty straightforward, free website, open to all viewers and opinions, not rated as billboard advertising and costs nothing to post, add to that the fact that Katrina clearly takes responsibility as the author of her own posts and you are left with a non-issue. ‘The guy from Whitieria Polytech’ just needs to have a proper look at the Website without needing anyone to clarify a single point for him.

    So this scandalous behavior needs to be investigated? In the interests of free speech I suggest this is a non-issue. A case of fabricating news instead of reporting it.

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