One of the most extraordinary pieces of New Zealand legislation enacted in my lifetime was the Major Events Management Act 2007 – a bullying, control-freak statute passed to oblige powerful commercial sport sponsors. You could almost describe it as fascist in the way it uses the power of the state to crush any impertinent gnat who threatens to upset the cosy collusion between government and big business.
The Act sets out, in nit-picking detail, the hoops that organisers of designated major sports events – such as the current Lions tour – must jump through to ensure the precious interests of sponsors are protected. Among other things it enables the creation of “clean zones” where anything resembling non-approved advertising must be wiped from the public’s field of vision for the duration of the event. Anyone who contaminates a clean zone – which includes transport routes to and from venues – risks a criminal conviction and a fine of up to $150,000. The Act also outlaws “ambush marketing” – the term used for attempts by non-approved companies to muscle in on the event.
The laws are policed by “enforcement officers” (even the language has a vaguely fascist tone) who are empowered to execute search warrants and issue “cease and desist” orders.
The Act was passed in preparation for the Rugby World Cup in 2011 and has always struck me as a case of massive – you might say oppressive – overkill. At best, it sits very uneasily with the right of free speech. But it’s consistent with the gradual process by which wealthy broadcasters and corporate interests have stolen sport from its rightful owners, the people.
Why am I bringing up this subject? Because today’s Dominion Post reports that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, working in concert with the police, has seized goods from people allegedly selling unauthorised merchandise before Lions matches in Christchurch and Dunedin. Since when, you might wonder, has it been the function of the New Zealand police to enforce the monopoly interests of big corporations? Since the politicians passed the Major Events Management Act, that’s when. But that doesn’t make it right.