New Zealand: Musician takes ban of his satirical song to court

19 September 2014


New Zealand blues singer Darren Watson has taken the country’s Electoral Commission to court to try and reverse a ban on his satirical song ‘Planet Key’. The commision told him to stop promoting and selling the song, which makes fun of Prime Minister John Key, or face prosecution.


A hearing in New Zealand’s High Court was held on 11 September 2014, where Justice Clifford reserved his decision on the matter til a later date.

“Electoral Commission censors musician and undermines freedom of speech,” reported the The New Zealand Herald on 16 August 2014, after the country’s Electoral Commission had told the musician Darren Watson to stop selling or promoting his satirical song ‘Planet Key’ or risk a fine of up to $10,000.

The Electoral Commission stated that the sale of the song through iTunes 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.

Screendump from the music video ‘Planet Key’
Screendump from the music video ‘Planet Key’

Mr Watson’s controversial song and music video satirises New Zealand’s prime minister John Key and members of the National Government in a humorous way. The music video had more than 80,000 hits on video websites, including Vimeo and YouTube.

In August, the Commission 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.

The ‘C-word’
Despite the Electoral Commission’s advice being legally non-binding, Mr Watson chose to remove the song from the iTunes store, while claiming the commission’s advice was censorship:

“I’m going to use the C-word – I think it is censorship,” Watson told Radio New Zealand: “A song is not an electoral advertisement and it’s not an electoral programme – it’s a song. The law is wrong.”

“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”, said Mr Watson: “I believe in artistic freedom.”

Lawyer for Mr Watson, Wendy Aldred, said the Electoral Commission fails to take into account Mr Watson’s right to freedom of expression under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

» 3 News, MediaWorks – 11 September 2014:
‘Planet Key’ debate taken to court

» 3 News, MediaWorks – 11 September 2014:
‘Planet Key’ goes to court

» 3 News, MediaWorks – 21 August 2014:
Last chance to hear ‘Planet Key’

» The New Zealand Herald – 16 August 2014:
Musician threatened with prosecution over ‘Planet Key’

» Scoop – 16 August 2014:
Electoral Commission Censors Musician

» One News, TVNZ – 16 August 2014:
‘Planet Key’ songwriter prepared to contest ban in court

» APN New Zealand / New Zealand Herald – 15 August 2014:
“Electoral Commission orders musical dig at Key off the air

» Wikipedia, the open encyclopedia:

» Darren Watson’s twitter account:

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