Politicians' use of Twitter under spotlight

The Speaker has referred the use of Twitter by MPs in Parliament to the Privileges Committee after complaints from MPs about tweets criticising others, including the Speaker himself.

The tweet that sparked the issue appeared to be Labour's Trevor Mallard criticising a decision by the Speaker last Tuesday, saying ‘‘2nd week in a row where the Speaker looked like Mafia Don running his @NZNationalParty protection racket."

Mr Carter has referred the issue of the use of social media in Parliament to the Privileges Committee to consider. He said there was some uncertainty about how the protection afforded to MPs by Parliamentary privilege applied to social media, given it was not a 'Parliamentary proceeding.'

‘‘Tweets may be actionable in the courts. Members could find themselves held in contempt by the House for publishing a false or misleading account of proceedings or reflecting on the character or conduct of the House or a member. Accusations that the Speaker has shown partiality in discharging his or her duties have in the past been judged very seriously, given the special position the Speaker holds."

He said MPs needed to be clear about the rules, so he had asked the Privileges Committee to examine Parliament's rules in light of new technology.

The Speaker can pull MPs up for inappropriate or offensive interjections or statements, but has no similar control over tweets. The Speaker picked up the issue after leader of the House complained about Mr Mallard's tweet without naming him, referring to a tweet which was derogatory about the Speaker and asked whether the use of Twitter should be considered.

‘‘I think it would be an unfortunate trend if members thought they could sit in this House and commentate on proceedings in a way that was derogatory to the Chair."

A Green MP's tweet from Parliament during Prime Minister John Key's Budget debate speech has also grabbed some attention. After Key referred to Finance Minister Bill English having six children and six Budgets, Jan Logie tweeted ‘‘John key says Bill English has produced as many budgets as children ... Begs the question who he has f&%d to produce it" [sic]

Mr English saw the tweet for the first time this morning and said it showed the Green Party had a nasty, vindictive side but it was not a major issue for him. He was not holding out for an apology, but said he wondered what the reaction would have been if a male National MP had much such a comment about a female MP.

In the past, the Green Party have joined efforts for a code of behaviour in Parliament. Ms Logie said she was now embarrassed about the tweet and upon reflection did not believe it was appropriate.

‘‘It's that thing about Twitter being a personal space. I won't go there again. I screwed up, I'll take it."

She was happy to tender a personal apology to Mr English for it. She had not deleted it because she believed people should be accountable for what they said.

Asked what the reaction would have been had a male National MP made the comment about a female Green MP, she said it was not directed at him personally.

‘‘It seemed a play on words about the treatment of the poor."

Of her use of the 'f-word' she said: ‘‘There is a t-shirt around about intelligent, well-education women who like to use the f-word. I possibly am one of those. Clearly Twitter is not the right place."

by Claire Trevett of the NZ Herald

Tweeting in Parliament

Is it possible for our MPs to give their full attention to what's happening in the debating chamber rather than playing with their smartphones? And what about a rule that they all have to be there?

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