Craig muscles in on leaders' debate

IAN STEWARD
Last updated 17:39 08/08/2014

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Colin Craig has successfully muscled his way into TV3's minor parties leaders' debate tomorrow morning after taking his case to the High Court.

TV3 executives decided outside the High Court to include the Conservative party leader after he successfully applied for an injunction preventing the debate from airing without him.

TV3 Director of News Mark Jennings said it was either include Craig or cancel the debate and it was not fair to prevent the other parties from being heard. 

Lawyers for Craig applied for an injunction in the High Court at Auckland this afternoon to prevent TV3 owners MediaWorks from airing a debate on its programme The Nation without the Conservative Party leader.

Party leaders from United Future, ACT, the Greens, the Maori Party, New Zealand First and Mana, were due to face off in the debate at 9.30am tomorrow morning.

Justice Murray Gilbert ruled that Craig had an arguable case that TV3's selection criteria - gaining a seat at the previous election - was insufficient.

He ruled that the application should succeed and he injuncted TV3's owners MediaWorks from holding the minor parties leaders' debate without Craig. 

Jennings said outside court that TV3 disagreed with the ruling but it would abide the decision and get on with the debate.

It was a shame as the other minor parties would now have less than five minutes each, he said.​

Craig's lawyer John McKay said his client was applying to restrain the programme from going ahead, "but a different way to put it is he would prefer it went ahead but with him in it". 

McKay said it was "extraordinary" that TV3 could hold a minor parties debate without Craig.

"The effect of MediaWorks' decision is to exclude arbitrarily the Conservative Party from an important debate."

McKay said the Conservatives polled higher in the 2011 election than four of the parties invited tomorrow and had consistently polled higher than the ACT Party which no longer had a seat in Parliament following the resignation of John Banks.

Justice Murray Gilbert said MediaWorks had rejected using polls to determine invitees and was going off who gained seats in the last election.

McKay said that was an "extraordinary" position to take - "What if the Conservatives were polling at 10 or 15 percent?" he asked.

MediaWorks submitted that it only had six podiums and seven participants could not be fitted into a single wide shot or lit properly. Expanding the line-up would make the broadcast un-economic. 

McKay said those objections could surely be addressed, and for well less than the $40,000 the company quoted.​

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MediaWorks' lawyer Daniel McLellan, QC, said his client must have freedom of expression to select who it wants to include in its broadcast and the courts should not be allowed to determine its content.

Justice Gilbert said Craig's position was that: "This is a minor party leaders debate and TV3 has in effect decided that Mr Craig doesn't make the cut."

McLellan said the company had to decide where to draw the line and its selection criteria was not arbitrary.

Craig had appeared on the programme as often as the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and had achieved a "disproportionate" amount of air-time for a candidate who had never been elected.

Craig had been invited to a future leaders' debate, he said.

- Stuff

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