1 Oct 2020

Court rules against Jami-Lee Ross, Billy Te Kahika over debate exclusion

2:25 pm on 1 October 2020

The Advance NZ Party's court case over not being included in a television debate has been rejected.

Advance NZ co-leaders Jami-Lee Ross and Billy Te Kahika outside the High Court.

Advance NZ co-leaders Jami-Lee Ross and Billy Te Kahika outside the High Court yesterday. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Co-leaders Jami-Lee Ross and Billy Te Kahika went to the High Court seeking an injunction against MediaWorks yesterday after discovering they had not been invited to the Newshub Nation PowerBrokers debate.

New Zealand First, the Green Party, the ACT Party and the Māori Party will feature in the debate on 3 October, which will focus on the political parties that could be in a position to help National or Labour form a government after the election.

The judge today declined their application for an injunction, saying he was not persuaded the criteria applied by MediaWorks for selecting participants was unreasonable or arbitrary.

She reserved judgment over costs.

In a statement, Ross and Te Kahika said they respectfully disagreed with the ruling, which they said was "another example of the media stacking the deck against democracy".

"MediaWorks decision to exclude any political party formed after the last election shows their bias in favour of the establishment," they said. "Their decision is undemocratic and means two parties with the same level of poll result are included in the debate, when Advance NZ is not."

In his judgment, Justice Walker noted that Newshub Nation executive producer Hannah Brown had stated the debate had not been styled as a minor parties' debate, but instead used the criterion of parties that "have won a list or electorate seat within the last two Parliamentary terms".

"There is insufficient evidence presented to the Court to support the proposition, and it overlooks the second element - the role of Queenmaker. Winning a seat (or seats, by virtue of the coat-tailing provisions) does not necessarily translate to Queen-making potential," she wrote.

Ross is a sitting MP but left the National Party in October 2018, and has been an independent since. He merged his Advance NZ party with the Public Party in July and the pair registered their party in August.

The party argued relying on historical metrics was arbitrary and unreasonable, that it discriminated against new political parties, and there was a "real chance" Advance NZ could be a powerbroker.

Mediaworks argued it was reasonable to focus on parties who have a track record of being in Parliament and are therefore likely candidates for forming a coalition, and the disadvantage of being unable to participate did not reach the level of serious harm.

Justice Walker said a line needed to be drawn somewhere.

"After all, there are 17 parties contesting the 2020 New Zealand election and resources, including available broadcasting time, are limited."

In 2005, the High Court ruled in favour of minor party leaders Peter Dunne and Jim Anderton when they challenged then-TV3 owner CanWest over being excluded from a television debate.

In 2014, Conservative Party leader Colin Craig also successfully challenged MediaWorks after not being invited to a Saturday morning minor parties television debate.

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