MP promotes own agenda on local news website
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.
PICTURE: Taken from Parliamentary website.