It’s election day in New Zealand, but don’t get out the popcorn just yet.
New Zealand law makes it a criminal offense for its citizens to use the media, including social media, to influence the votes of others on election day. There will be no early televised exit polls, no photos of elated Kiwis, having just fulfilled their sacred civic duty; no men on stilts wrapped in the colors of their flag, shouting nationalistic slogans, and wearing old-timey hats.
Perhaps worst of all, there will be no #ElectionSelfies—not any legal ones, anyway.
As the Associated Press reports:
Talking heads on television can’t mention something as mundane as a candidate’s attire, much less who might win. Political parties are even directed by authorities to ‘unpublish their Facebook pages.’ Not only are election billboards banned, so too are political protests, demonstrations and marches.
According to New Zealand’s Electoral Commission, the news media is banned from publicizing “any words or images likely to influence voters” before 7pm. Those restrictions apply to photographing or filming voters or candidates at or near polling stations on election day.
The Commission provides two helpful examples of no-nos:
• News coverage broadcast before 7pm that shows a candidate at an election-related demonstration would be in breach of the election-day rules.
• An item broadcast before 7pm commenting on a party’s likelihood of winning an electorate seat or passing the 5 percent party vote threshold would breach the election-day rules.
Election websites are not required to be taken down as long as they are “only made available to people who voluntarily access” them. No new material concerning the election can be posted online, however.
“If you use social media, do not post messages on election day that could breach these rules,” the Commission says. Are you a rebellious Instagram user? Be prepared to face a fine of up to $20,000.
It’s not as if reporters have to pretend an election isn’t actually taking place. They can mention a vote is occurring and that so-and-so is running for office. But apparently there’s a very fine line in between information and influence.
Even postal workers are under strict orders not to deliver campaign leaflets. “You can expect complaints by voters who think the material arrived on election day. Those complaints will be reviewed by the Electoral Commission and where appropriate referred to the New Zealand Police,” the Commission says.
It’s no wonder Megaupload founder and naturalized citizen Kim Dotcom—perhaps the only reason the Internet has taken an interest in Saturday’s election—took all of yesterday to blast his support for the Internet MANA party:
Let’s hack politics together Vote ? INTERNET MANA ?
— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) September 19, 2014
On Monday, Dotcom held a press conference in Auckland with a coalition of Internet activists, including: National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, journalist Glenn Greenwald, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and Internet Party leader Laila Harre.
The highly publicized town hall meeting, dubbed “The Moment of Truth,” followed an article by Greenwald at the Intercept, which alleged that New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has misled the public about government mass surveillance. A program, of which the Key government was allegedly aware, involved wiretapping Internet traffic on undersea cables to collect metadata on Kiwis for the NSA.
Nevertheless, most online pollsters and media predictions suggest that the Key government will be sticking around for a third term. According to ABC, four recent opinion polls show the National Party up by 64 seats in the 121-seat parliament, with Labour-Green party trailing behind at 47, and minor parties filling the rest.
The spiteful laws intended to keep us from enjoying New Zealand’s election—as we so did with Scotland’s independence referendum—may sound a bit Orwellian at first. But one can imagine how placing such restrictions on Fox News or MSNBC during a U.S. presidential election might actually be kind of nice.
Photo by Gustavo Devito/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)