The Herald reports:
A blogger who came to New Zealand from Britain has been warned to stop giving immigration advice on her blog – or face prosecution under the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act.
The Immigration Advisers Authority says Helen Winterbottom was breaking the law by posting on avalonsguide.com, and has told her she must get a licence if she wants to continue.
Yes Immigration advisers are now licenses, but those enforcing the law should be able to recognise the difference between someone who is in business charging fees for immigration advice, and a blogger talking about their immigration experiences online.
And if no such discretion is possible under the law, it is a damn stupid law that should be repealed.
Sadly it may not be the only one. The new regulating of financial advisers may also capture far more widely than intended, according to Stephen Franks.
But the former pharmacist said she was only “speaking her mind” on her blog, which she started last November, and did not have any intention of becoming an immigration adviser.
Ms Winterbottom said she did not have the written warning, but had been told by the authority that one of her blog entries broke the law.
“I can’t believe that in New Zealand we have a law that makes it a criminal offence to offer advice to someone,” she said. “It really takes away our basic right to freedom of speech.
“My blog is an immigration support forum, so discussing the topic openly is what we do, just like support forums for people who have a specific illness.
That sort of blog should be encouraged, not discouraged.
Mr Smedts said the act was in place to protect migrants from poor advice.
“If someone is giving immigration advice, they must be licensed, unless exempt.
“Helen Winterbottom has suggested in her blog on July 6 that she is exempt, but she does not fit any category of exemption that we are aware of.”
Lawyers, diplomats and MPs are exempt from licensing.
“If bloggers wish to continue writing about immigration issues, they need to consider if they are giving immigration advice as defined by the act,”Mr Smedts said.
“If the answer is yes, are they licensed or exempt, and if not, I recommend they either apply for a licence or invite a licensed adviser or exempt person to contribute to their blogs.”
My suggestion is every blogger in New Zealand starts giving immigration advice on their blogs, and we all appear in court together.
The Act may be well intentioned, but the vast majority of people realise that free advice on a blog or a forum, is just that – free advice. It is not official advice. It is not paid advice. It is not expert advice. It is people sharing experiences. Now the site does have an e-book available for sale but it appears to be a general read about why people should move to NZ etc.
I hope Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman investigates this situation, and if a law change is needed, promotes one. The Government does not want a blogger in court charged with the crime of talking about immigration issues.Tags: Blogosphere, free speech, Helen Winterbottom, immigration