Judge rules Planet Key satire not an election broadcast

Musician Darren Watson has won his case in the High Court against the Electoral Commission, which claimed his satirical ...
CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ

Musician Darren Watson has won his case in the High Court against the Electoral Commission, which claimed his satirical song, Planet Key was an election advertisement.

The High Court has ruled in favour of two music artists, whose Planet Key parody song was placed under a gag order by the Electoral Commission during the 2014 election campaign.

In August, ahead of the September election, the Electoral Commission blocked radio stations and media outlets from playing a satirical Planet Key music video by singer-songwriter Darren Watson and video producer Jeremy Jones.

The commission said it viewed the Planet Key video as an "election programme" and so it could not be broadcast on radio or television without an authorised promoter statement. 

But on Thursday, Justice Denis Clifford released his judgment ruling the satirical song was allowed to be broadcast during the campaign.

"In doing so, the court emphasised the importance of the rights to freedom of expression and to participate in genuine elections for Parliament, confirmed by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act," Clifford said.

The video went viral after its release in August, and Prime Minister John Key was unfazed by it. 

He said it was "quite professionally done" and "it was anti-us, but as a parody it was OK, wasn't it?"

But Commssion spokesman Richard Thornton said at the time, there were "strict rules in the Broadcasting Act that prohibit the broadcasting on radio and television of material by third parties that appears to encourage voters to vote or not to vote for a political party or candidate".

"If the video is an election advertisement it can still be published online. However, the video would need to include a promoter statement so that voters can see who has promoted it."

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The implications of that could have left the pair facing huge costs, as they would have needed to register with the commission as a third party promoter.

In the lead-up to the election, the song was briefly sold on iTunes and the video was available for free on websites, which according to the Commission, was a criminal offence liable for a fine of up to $40,000.

The pair took the Electoral Commission to the High Court, saying the song was a "personal opinion" and exempt from electoral rules. 

The High Court ruled that under the Electoral Act, "the concept of an advertisement did not, as the Electoral Commission suggested, simply mean any form of announcement to the public".

"On that basis the High Court concluded that neither the song, nor the music video should, when and if broadcast, be regarded as advertisements."

Neither Watson nor the Electoral Commission were immediately available to comment.  

 - Stuff

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