The Opportunities Party won't be in TVNZ debate, court rules

  • 07/09/2017

The Opportunities Party has failed in its bid to force TVNZ to accept it into Friday's televised election debate despite taking the broadcaster to court.

TVNZ earlier excluded TOP from its multi-party leader's debate because it failed to meet the criteria for debate participants that parties already be in Parliament or polling at 3 percent or higher.

TOP is polling at 1.9 percent in the most recent 1News Colmar Brunton poll to be released on Thursday evening.

Speaking at the High Court at Auckland on Thursday, Justice Geoffrey Venning said he was not satisfied TOP had proven that TVNZ's criteria for selecting who took part in the debate was unfair.

TOP's lawyer Francis Cooke QC had argued party leader Gareth Morgan's election campaign would be irretrievably "harmed" if he was not permitted into the debate.

He said television was highly influential with voters and yet TVNZ was potentially distorting election results by using unfairly arbitrary criteria to decide who qualified for its debate.

"Mr Morgan might as well go home now because he is not going to get anywhere" in this election, that is the message the station is sending to voters, Mr Cooke said.

He argued the station should use broader factors to decide which parties to include because otherwise it was effectively pre-judging the election outcome on only two measures, he said.

TVNZ's criteria were also creating irrational outcomes in which the leaders of the Maori Party, ACT Party and United Future party could take part in its debate whereas Mr Morgan could not despite currently polling higher than the other parties, he said.

But Justice Venning agreed with TVNZ's counsel Stacey Shortall, who said it was not the station's desire to exclude anyone from its debate and that it instead developed its criteria in a bid to be fair to all.

Earlier, Justice Venning dismissed an appeal by the Internet Party, founded by Kim Dotcom, to join TOP's legal action because they had submitted their paperwork too late.