Case Brief: New Conservative v Television New Zealand Ltd

October 9, 2020

Summary

New Conservative, a political party outside of Parliament, challenged TVNZ’s decision to not invite them to the multi-leaders’ debate (a televised debate of minor political party leaders) held on Thursday 8 October2020. Woolford J declined the application for interim orders requiring TVNZ to invite New Conservative leader Leighton Baker to the debate.

Background

The Prime Minister originally announced that the General Election would be held on 19 September 2020. TVNZ set their criteria for invitation to the multi-leaders’ debate to include the leaders of parties that are currently represented in Parliament and/or the leaders of parties who are not represented in Parliament but which score 3 per cent in at leader one 1 NewsColmar Brunton poll in the six months before the Debate. Based on this criteria NZ First, the Green Party and ACT were invited.

Due to a second COVID-19 outbreak, the Prime Minister delayed the election until 17 October. In response to concerns raised by the Maori Party, TVNZ added additional criteria to include leaders of parties where the leader had been an MP in either or both of the past two Parliaments and parties that had been represented in either or both of the past two Parliaments. The new criteria opened the way for the Maori Party and Advance NZ to be invited to the debate.

After learning that the latest poll results wouldn’t be released until the morning of the debate, New Conservative filed urgent application on Tuesday 6 October for an interim order requiring TVNZ to invite Leighton Baker to the debate.

The Case

Woolford J declined the application for interim orders at the conclusion of the hearing on Wednesday morning and released the reasons for his decision the next day.  TVNZ argued that the decision could not be reviewed by the Court as they were not a public body, however they accepted that they were for the purposes of the interim application.

Woolford J dismissed the significance of the two referenda(cannabis legalisation and end of live choice) being held at same time as the election as a relevant factor for determining who should be included in the debate. Similarly, he did not accept the argument that the New Conservative were as disadvantaged as the Maori Party by the lack of Colmar Brunton polling in the Maori electorate seats because New Conservative had members standing in general electorate seats as well. Woolford J also found no evidence that New Conservative had vigorously argued for inclusion in the debate earlier on or that they could demonstrate that they had a viable pathway to Parliamentary representation.

What next

The interim application was declined. New Conservative still could have had a pathway for inclusion had they polled at over 3 percent in the1News Colmar Brunton poll released on the day of the debate. In the end, they polled at 1.3 percent.

The full judgment can be read here

To learn more about the case, contact Senior Consultant Brigitte Morten

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