30 Sep 2008

Election debate row escalates

1:01 pm on 30 September 2008

TV3 is denying claims it buckled to political pressure by dropping a televised debate of political party leaders.

TV3 cancelled its full leaders debate, which included leaders of minor parties, after Labour leader Helen Clark and National Party leader John Key refused to take part.

However, Television New Zealand is going ahead with its televised debate, despite the refusal by the two leaders to take part.

TV3 News and Current Affairs director Mark Jennings told Nine to Noon on Tuesday that it is simply not a leaders' debate without Miss Clark and Mr Key.

He said TV3 certainly had not caved in and will give the minor parties fair coverage.

Mr Jennings said he thinks Mr Key and Miss Clark's actions were outrageous, arrogant and totally against the spirit of MMP, but the public can make up their own minds.

Breach of standards - Greens

The Green Party is investigating whether TV3 has breached broadcasting standards.

Co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says TV3 is obliged to provide balance, and if the network holds a debate between the Labour and National leaders only, it could be in breach of broadcasting standards.

TV3 was considering on Tuesday whether to still hold a debate between Miss Clark and Mr Key.

United Future leader Peter Dunne described the refusal by Labour and National's leaders to participate in the debate as an affront to democracy.

Mr Dunne says the pair have secretly agreed to debate only each other on television before the election. He says voters need every opportunity they can get to make an informed choice.

He says voters are being told it is essentially a two-horse race, when in fact it is the minor parties that will determine the make-up of the next government.

Mr Dunne describes the move as a backroom jackup between the two old parties that is aimed at depriving the smaller parties of television airtime.

Both leaders also refused to take part in full leaders debate on TVNZ, but that network says it will still provide a prime time platform for the other party leaders.