Thursday, August 21, 2014

Calling Planet Earth ... Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

I’m not sure what piece of critical information I’m missing regards this ongoing Darren Watson/Planet Key farce, but I really don’t get it. Since when has artistic freedom and the basic human right to express an opinion been so heavily monitored and policed?

As I understand it, not only is mainstream media (TV, radio) broadcast of the song banned, but a request has been made for it to be removed from Vimeo and YouTube altogether. Next step, all sales will be banned (see press release below).
And apparently the “prohibition on broadcasting the song applies as a permanent ban, and not just at election time” … um, what? … the Electoral Commission now has an extended scope and gets to determine what is censored beyond the period leading up to a general election?! Really?

Let’s be clear, there is nothing obscene or offensive in either the lyrics of the song or the video clip, just two men (Watson and video producer Jeremy Jones) expressing a valid opinion on political matters. It is surely as simple as that?
Powertool Records Election EP
Having downloaded the video myself, and having published it on everythingsgonegreen a week ago (in an attempt to offer support to Watson’s position and to raise awareness of Electoral Commission folly), am I now to expect some contact from the Electoral Commission myself for having the audacity to publish a clip so mildly critical of our smarmy Prime Minister?
Is this where things are headed under the current government? And isn’t this what election campaigns are all about – people expressing opinions in the public domain?
Certainly local indie Powertool Records seem to think it’s okay to release an album of politically-motivated songs – by a variety of artists – in the lead up to the election (click here for Bandcamp link).

So what is the difference?
Look, I appreciate I’m only a layman when it comes to these matters, but I really can’t see what the problem is – specifically with regard to ‘Planet Key’ …

… if you can offer any informed insight as to what it is I’m failing to grasp, then I’d appreciate you letting me know in the comments section. Comments along the lines of “that big bad blues musician said naughty things about our humble leader” will not be taken seriously.
Meanwhile, here’s the full press release from a few days ago:

Electoral Commission Censors Musician and Undermines Freedom of Speech
The Electoral Commission has told Darren Watson, a musician, to stop selling or promoting his satirical song "Planet Key" or he may face prosecution.

The song and music video satirises John Key and members of the National Government in a humorous way. The music video has had more than 80,000 hits on video websites, including Vimeo and YouTube

"This is simply a satirical song. I wrote it at home and it's the musical expression of my own personal views", says Mr Watson. Jeremy Jones of Propeller Motion, the maker of the video, says he was motivated to make the amusing Monty Python-style animated clip after hearing the song and seeing an opportunity to work on a creative project with Mr Watson. Neither of the men received any payment for producing the work, but have sold the song through i-Tunes to recoup some of their costs.
However, the Electoral Commission has not seen the funny side and Mr Watson has received a letter saying that the Commission considers the song and associated video are "election advertisements" under the Electoral Act and "election programmes" under the Broadcasting Act.

The Electoral Commission is also threatening that the sale of the song through i-Tunes without a promoter statement is "an apparent breach of section 204F of the Electoral Act", which is an illegal practice punishable by a fine of up to $10,000.
"I object to the suggestion that I am some sort of political promoter. I am a musician and I feel very strongly about this kind of censorship", says Mr Watson. "I believe in artistic freedom."

The Commission has told TV and radio stations they should not broadcast the song outside of news programmes. The prohibition on broadcasting the song applies as a permanent ban, and not just at election time.

 Lawyer for Mr Watson and Mr Jones, Wendy Aldred, says she has asked the Electoral Commission to reconsider its opinion, saying the Commission's letter is incorrect in its approach to the law, fails to take into account Mr Watson's right to freedom of expression under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, and is heavy-handed.
If the Electoral Commission does not revise its opinion the matter is likely to go to Court.

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