What media standards should apply?

March 6th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

This is a guest post from the , which continues to seek feedback on and discussion of its Review of Regulatory Gaps and the New Media issues paper. It follows on from three posts at Public Address being  Who are the media? and Who guards the guardians? and Censorship is not the only enemy of free speech. The Law Commission warmly invites you to engage in discussion of this post.

This is a rare opportunity to influence the direction of and new policy in New Zealand. I encourage people to make constructive comments, that help answer the questions posed.

Note the disclaimer at the bottom of the posts.”

I would also encourage people to consider making formal submissions, which can be done up until the closing date on Monday 12th of March.


4.What standards should apply?

One of the first challenges facing any new converged media regulator would be to consult the public about what standards should apply to the news media and the extent to which standards should differ in different contexts.

Currently, the two existing news media regulators, the Broadcasting Standards Authority and the Press Council adopt quite different approaches to how they define and apply journalistic ethics and standards.

Because it is a statutory body the BSA must apply standards laid down in primary legislation and must work with industry to translate these into specific codes of practices which are used to assess complaints. There are currently four different codes:

  • Free-to-air television
  • Pay television
  • Radio
  • Election Programmes

The BSA has developed a significant body of media jurisprudence, particularly in the area of of privacy.

The Press Council is much less prescriptive in its approach, relying on a set of general journalistic principles which are intended to provide guidance to the public and publishers with respect to ethical journalism.

To date we are not aware of any New Zealand research investigating public expectations of media standards and how these may be changing as a result of the greatly expanded menu of options available to consumers of news and current affairs.

Some of the questions a new regulator might want answered are whether the public has a different expectation of standards of accuracy and fairness from news websites which are constantly updating breaking news, compared with those same sites’ print products? Similarly, does the public expect the same standards from news videos published on newspaper websites as they do from footage broadcast on prime time television? What about news and current affairs programmes accessed on demand?

And what care are news sites expected to take when publishing user-generated content including comments on news stories?

What about bloggers who might choose to come under the independent news media complaints body – should they be subject to a different code more appropriate for the inevitably partisan nature of opinion makers?

Interestingly recent research undertaken by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) exploring Australians’ expectations of media standards in a converged environment found the content itself (and the provider) were more determinative of consumer expectations than the platform on which that content was delivered:

One of the key findings from the focus groups involved in the research was “the expectation that community standards should apply differently to content type rather than delivery channel.

Participants consistently distinguished between user-generated and professionally produced content. This distinction was driven by the perception of each content type having a different ‘community’ Content that was professionally produced (such as films, television programs or series) was expected to be consumed on a mass scale by the broader community and, as such it was expected to reflect broad community standards.

In our Issues Paper we raise a number of questions to test New Zealanders’ perceptions and expectations of media standards in the converged environment. We also suggest a new regulator would need to consult widely with the public on these questions. Among the questions we pose in our Issues Paper with respect to standards are:

Traditionally, the standards to which the news media have been held accountable have dealt with the following matters: (chapter 4 at 4.30)

  • Accuracy;
  • Fairness and balance – ensuring for example that news is not deliberately distorted through the omission of important facts or view-points;
  • Respect for individuals’ rights to privacy;
  • A commitment to public interest rather than self-interested publishing;
  • Transparency; ensuring conflicts of interest are declared;
  • Good taste and decency; ensuring the general public is not offended by the gratuitous publication of offensive content.

Do you think these standards are still important?

Do the internet and the facility for others to comment and participate in the news process change any of these standards?  (chapter 6 at 6.41)

Should all news media be accountable to the same standards irrespective of the medium in which they publish?  Or is there a distinction to be made between content which is broadcast to mass audiences simultaneously and content which is accessed by individuals on demand? (chapter 6 at 6.92)

The ACMA research suggests the on-demand distinction is less important than the nature of the market for which the content was intended. With respect to news and current affairs, this market is by its very nature almost invariably broad-based, which might suggest community expectations of standards for news and current affairs may be uniform irrespective of delivery channel.

What are your views?


This discussion is being advertised across several new media websites – guests to Kiwiblog are very welcome but please refer to the rules under Posting Policy and Demerits.

This discussion is part of the Law commission’s consultation on their issues paper “The News Media meets ‘New Media’: rights, responsibilities and regulation in the digital age. I.E. your comments below may be taken into account when the Law Commission writes its final report on Media Regulation issues. The discussion will be moderated, however this moderation will be in accordance with the normal rules of moderation in this forum.

Several other things follow from this:

1. The Law Commission may participate in the discussion.  Any comments it makes in this forum should be regarded as provisional as the Commission will not finalise its policies and recommendations to government until it tables its final report which is expected at the end of 2012.

2.  Parts or all of this discussion may be archived as part of the official record of this Issues Paper Consultation (Practically this means that  if you change your mind on something then you are encouraged to say so and explain why – otherwise your initial view may be interpreted as a kind of submission).;

3.  This discussion may be subject to the Official Information Act – and certainly any remarks made by the Law Commission will be; The Law Commission encourages all participants to also make formal submissions to the Law Commission here.  If you form an opinion on these issues as a result of reading the discussion in this thread then please share that with the Commission directly if you wish.

– The Law Commission and David Farrar (Host and publisher of Kiwiblog)

8 Responses to “What media standards should apply?”

  1. David Farrar (1,766 comments) says:

    I’ll comment in more detail in a formal submission, but some initial thoughts are that the six standards listed are important, but to varying degrees. Also that over time views on what is, for example, offensive content will change.

    I think the Internet does change some of these standards, as it is essentially a “pull” technology. There are millions of websites on the Internet and hundreds that provide NZ news and views. People choose which sites to read. This is different to say television where you tune into a channel and may stay on that channel and everyone in the house sees what is on that channel.

    The other change the Internet brings is a right of reply. Allowing comments on an item arguably means a more tolerant view of balance can be adopted, as comments allows others to counter opinions put forward.

    In terms of do all standards apply in all mediums, I would suggest there are different standards in different mediums. But I would not have a differentiation between broadcast and print media. They are both just different shades of the same – once they publish the story, it is final. Any errors etc can not be easily remedied.

    Stories published on the Internet can be corrected quickly and before harm is done. An example is the recent story on the Waitangi Day pub crawl in London. The story that appeared in print was totally unbalanced reporting the views of basically one complainer. The initial story online was the same. But as people responded to that story, the story change throughout the day, and by the end of the day was radically different including comments from police on how much they enjoyed the pub crawl.

    I would advocate that the print version of the story could well be held up against the above standards as having failed to be balanced. However the web version should not be judged the same, as it was edited as more info comes to light.

    As I said above I don’t there one should distinguish between broadcast and print media. Arguably with convergence the distinction between broadcast and Internet media is also diminishing. But I would not advocate that TVNZ be held to the same standard as a blog. What may be a useful defining line is the size of the audience. So a news medium with a million viewers is held to a higher standard than say a community newspaper with say 2,000 readers.

    As I said, these are just initial thoughts. A more polished and thought out submission is planned.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  2. Griff (13,845 comments) says:

    No way should any censorship be applied to blogs
    In the perverseness of the moder world They are self regulating communities.
    As long as they are readable by all they pose no hidden threat to the public good.
    News papers and tv are paid for by advertising and to some degree represent the views of the majority share holders and advertisers only
    There is not enough choice in MSM to give all views instead they represent by their very nature a dumbed down non thinking shard of information

    Libel as applied to print and tv should also not apply
    The public directly judges Blogs and have free choice to select content as well as as freedom to reply to any negative comment
    There is no need to insert the process of “justice” into this as its a free forum with inherent rights of reply by its very nature

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  3. Alan Wilkinson (2,435 comments) says:

    The question is “whose standards should apply”. Frankly a lot of BSA decisions are pure b.s.

    People have choice as to what they choose to read, view and contribute to. That choice should be respected and bureaucracy should in general keep its nose out of it.

    Right of reply is very important – uncensored and in equal prominence. “Public interest” is a weasel-word concept. Get rid of it.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  4. Graeme Edgeler (3,241 comments) says:

    People have choice as to what they choose to read, view and contribute to. That choice should be respected and bureaucracy should in general keep its nose out of it.

    We’re not really talking about offensive thing, but the news. If the news starts airing (or publishing) stories about how a National MP assaulted someone, and the story is either untrue (because it didn’t happen), or misleading (because they were never asked for their side and it was in self-defence), should we be able to do something about it?

    You can certainly argue not, but while people choose to be offended by South Park, for example, does any really *choose* to be mislead by news media?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  5. Alan Wilkinson (2,435 comments) says:

    “If the news starts airing (or publishing) stories about how a National MP assaulted someone, and the story is either untrue (because it didn’t happen), or misleading (because they were never asked for their side and it was in self-defence), should we be able to do something about it?”

    You are joking, aren’t you? The chances of you doing something about it before the MP’s lawyer has got his damages claim filed are zilch.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  6. althecat (7 comments) says:

    Alan you raise another question which is not that directly addressed in the report – but which probably ought to be. Defamation.

    Defamation exists because for most of the past two centuries we have had powerful newspapers who without defamation to slow them down were able to do whatever they wanted.

    However that is no longer the case. And allowing the tort to be used for example to get $400,000 because someone calls you a drunk – while there is a bar on suing someone if they run you over and make you a paraplegic is nonsense.

    The law of defamation (libel in the UK) is probably the biggest current threat to press freedom as a result. For example take Joe Karam – he is sueing the Justice for Robin Bain lobby group (or threatening to) and actually suing fairfax over a story they ran on the matter.

    Now nobody will touch the issue of Robin Bain’s innocence with a barge pole – media or otherwise.

    Whatever you think of the merits of the issue – the fact is that media are no longer prepared to wear legal costs for anything if they can be avoided. There are very few exceptions to this general rule.

    As a result a precautionary approach is taken by the media and lots of things which are too hard to report are simply not.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  7. Alan Wilkinson (2,435 comments) says:

    althecat, I’m not sure I have much sympathy for the JfRB group since I suspect they brought it on themselves with the virulence of their attacks on David Bain.

    However, as I said before, I think the most appropriate remedy for misinformation is more information. Media who get it wrong “innocently” should have the opportunity to set it right by publishing retractions/responses and the defamation law should establish that option explicitly.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  8. althecat (7 comments) says:

    That is a good idea. At present once proceedings begin it usually precludes their being any more information – and the JfRB case illustrates that rather well. It is Karam’s desire to shut down discussion of the matter and he has succeeded in doing so simply by making threats.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote