Time to end election day blackout

Imagine being fined up to $20,000 for tweeting "Vote Labour" or "Down With John Key".
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

Imagine being fined up to $20,000 for tweeting "Vote Labour" or "Down With John Key".

No, the ruling National Party hasn't turned New Zealand into a totalitarian state, it is just that the country has a crazy campaigning blackout on Polling Day.

This Saturday, until 7pm when the polls close, it will be unlawful for anyone to publish any messages that could be construed as campaigning.

Thus, the newspapers will be bereft of politics, and their websites won't have any fresh political content.

Television news won't be able to say much other than it is election day.

Bloggers cannot post fresh content either if it aims to influence voters. They have also been told that they must disable comments in case their readers make political statements.

This week, the organisers of the country's general election released its rules, which confirmed a hard-line stance on such matters, even including social media.

Yes, the law even bans politically motivated comments on Facebook and Twitter, something commentators say will be unenforceable.

Bloggers say they will obey the law, but there have been threats of rebellion from Facebook and Twitter users, and they do have a point.

It is nothing short of dictatorial to threaten fines of up to $20,000 for what is effectively free speech.

Social media sites are just the modern way of communicating with your friends.

Tweeting to your mates or posting it on Facebook that you have voted for such-and-such is no different from telling people in the pub.

Furthermore, who the hell is going to patrol Twitter and Facebook?

Don't the police and other authorities have better things to do?

And as blogger Russell Brown wisely noted, how do you disable comments on Facebook?

Certainly if the New Zealand Electoral Commission wishes to keep election day on Saturday solemn, it will have its work cut out.

Growing up in the UK, I also recall the final last-minute moments of campaigns often produced the best campaigning and commentary.

Indeed, The Sun newspaper warning on Election day in 1992 against a Neil Kinnock-led Labour government was a classic, with noted historical significance.

Kiwis should be allowed similar spicy commentary as a climax to an election campaign.

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