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Anti-EFA brigade overreacting to warning to website

Resistance to the Electoral Finance Act (EFA) is not without reason—posts in this blog have been critical of it—but opponents must now realise the line between reacting and overreacting.  The Electoral Commission’s warning to webmaster Andrew Moore did not concern the EFA’s most controversial clause.  On the contrary, it concerned quite possibly the only reasonable requirement of the new law.

The website has a self-explanatory title “Don’t Vote Labour” and breaches the Act by not having the name and address of the publisher on it.  It is a requirement that has always been, one that has existed for years for billboards and print adverts without public complaint, before the internet became widespread.  Times have changed, and the law has to keep up by demanding the same standards of what is now an equally influential medium.

The point here is not about the name-and-address requirement, but that in their desperation to find something to criticise, the anti-EFA activists are promoting a double standard.  They must apply the same rules to campaign websites as billboards, print and broadcasting: either they all should require a name and address, or none of them should.  If the latter applies, why weren’t they campaigning to repeal that requirement before?

EFA opponents must conduct themselves with a sense of rationality if they are to succeed.  They need to argue with the facts, rather than with random statements.  Whaleoil’s claims that t-shirts and bumper stickers will breach the law and that webmasters have to “register” are symptomatic.  Even Helen Clark would admit that t-shirts and bumper stickers don’t “encourage or persuade voters”, as in the EFA’s definition of election advertisement.  And webmasters don’t have to register unless they spend more than $12,000, they only have to print their name and address on the website.  By publishing such hopelessly misleading statements, EFA opponents risk falling from the moral high ground, just like the Labour Party did after the 2005 election.

The law is right to excuse personal political expression in blogs, for the simple reason that the common citizen should not need to worry about regulation.  The Don’t Vote Labour, though, is not just political expression, it is a full-on campaign.  Like donators, campaign leaders should not fear identification if they truly believe in what they are doing.

The warning to the Don’t Vote Labour website is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.  Rather than seize on the small stuff, EFA opponents are far better off waiting for more meaty cases.  Cases of ordinary citizens, not deliberately trying to flout the law, but getting caught up in a maze of regulation nonetheless.  It’ll happen.  The EFA is a mess and will turn out messy cases—but it has yet to do so.

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Earlier related posts (in my other blog)
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