Final Law Commission report on new media and news media

March 26th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The has published its final report as part of their review of regulatory gaps and new media.

I blogged on their draft report in December 2011, and said I thought their draft report was excellent.

I also blogged my submission on the draft report in March 2012.

Their final report is not hugely different to their draft report, but there have been some useful changes, especially around the key area of having any regulator totally independent from Government (unlike the current Broadcasting Standards Authority).

The report is a welcome dose of common sense and respect for a free media, which avoids the excesses recommended in the UK an Australia.

The Law Commissions cites four policy objectives in their report:

  • recognise and protect the special status of the news media, ensuring all entities carrying out the legitimate functions of the fourth estate, regardless of their size or commercial status, are able to access the legal privileges and exemptions available to these publishers
  • ensure that those entities accessing the news media’s special legal status are held accountable for exercising their power ethically and responsibly
  • provide citizens with an effective and meaningful means of redress when those standards are breached
  • signal to the public which publishers they can rely on as sources of news and information.

They note:

Finally, there is a strong public interest in ensuring that any accountability mechanisms for the news media encourages rather than stifles diversity. It must therefore provide a level playing field for all those carrying out the functions of the fourth estate, irrespective of their size, commercial status, or the format in which they publish or distribute their content. In other words it must be technology neutral focusing on content and context rather than the format or delivery platform.

I agree, and that is why I support their key recommendation of just one self-regulatory standards body, rather than the existing three bodies (one Govt regulatory, and two self-regulatory).

Some of their recommendations are:

  • A news media standards body (the News Media Standards Authority or NMSA) should be established to enforce standards across all publishers of news.
  • Membership should be entirely voluntary and available to any person or entity that regularly publishes or generates news, information or current opinion.
  • To gain the full legal rights of news media (which are extensive), an entity or person must be accountable to a published code of ethics and the NMSA.
  • The NMSA should be chaired by a retired Judge who is appointed by the Chief Ombudsman and the majority of complaints panel members should be representatives of the public who are not from the media industry.
  • The NMSA will have a code of practice and may also have sub-codes for different mediums (I think is is important as I think online media should focus more on correction, which is less of a remedy in broadcast or print media).
  • NMSA powers will include publishing of their decisions, website take downs, corrections, right of replies, apologies, censure and ultimately termination of membership. However no power to fine.
  • A three person appeals body is also recommended.
  • No state funding of the NMSA for its regulatory function – will be entirely industry funded.
  • A working party of seven people to establish the NMSA, with the Chief Ombudsman appointing the Chairperson and the Chairperson the other six members – with industry representatives in the minority.
  • NZ on Air funding of news and current affairs will only be open to media that are members of NMSA.
  • BSA would have its role reduced to good taste and decency and protection of children standards only.

I think this report is an opportunity for the media to move from a mixed model of partial government regulation and partial self-regulation to effectively full self-regulation. I also like the opening up of opportunities for non traditional media to gain the legal privileges of the media, so long as they are willing to sign up for a code of practice and complaints procedure.

To some degree the status quo isn’t broken, so I wouldn’t call this a legislative priority for any Government. We’ll see a formal response in 120 days (off memory). But it does represent a sensible way forward and is worth pursuing.

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10 Responses to “Final Law Commission report on new media and news media”

  1. tvb (4,326 comments) says:

    They are recommending some privileges (I assume protection of sources) if they sign up to a code of ethics and have a disputes resolution process. It is quite an elegant piece of work. They are making it voluntary. I assume people who do not submit to the regulatory regime cannot give protection to sources. So some legislation will be required. In the UK they have got hung up on whether there should be legislation but they are proposing a Royal Charter. The argument there seems to be facile. In Australia we had the fiasco last week when the Government withdrew the legislation which they could not pass. Let us hope NZ can do better with this thoughtful piece from the Law Commission.

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  2. Viking2 (11,368 comments) says:

    Yeah all you lefties will luv this. another union by another name. I.e. We collect funds for the good of all.

    FFS.

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  3. Redbaiter (8,350 comments) says:

    Now I know why this blog had so little to say about the recent outrageous plans to limit the Australian media.

    This is all just Marxist crap.

    I hear my critics out there say the same old same old- “Oh there goes Redbaiter downgrading the debate again”, but I completely reject that view.

    I do so because all one needs to do to know I am right is read the language that is used in this report. Examples- “diversity” “level playing field” “enforcement of standards” “representatives of the public” “codes and sub-codes of practice”.

    And WEBSITE TAKEDOWNS..!!!

    Can you imagine a government led by say Claire Curren rubbing their hands over that.

    I dislike these kind of quangos because they all represent the opportunity for a stealthful intervention into freedom of political expression by the government and this one is no exception.

    We are going alright.

    Just leave it alone.

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  4. David Farrar (1,883 comments) says:

    Actually this proposal will lead to a more free media. One should try reading something before reacting to it.

    The BSA is a Government appointed body and has the power to fine stations, and even punish them by topping them having ads for a period of time.

    The proposed NMSA will have no govt appointees and have no power to fine. It will be opt in, and like the Press Council have the power to require corrections etc.

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  5. flipper (3,950 comments) says:

    Actually, on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the UK idiot and the two Aussie (Fink & Con) nut cases), I would, on first sight, give this an 8.

    BUT ……

    In spite of your apparently obsequious position with regard to the Law Commission, DPF, I suspect we would all be better off if they, and the BSA, were, in tota, deep sixed.

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  6. RRM (9,784 comments) says:

    And to think it was only yesterday some of us were cheering on complaints about tui billboards and “sub-standard” humour in general…

    http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2013/03/more_complainants.html#comment-1116473

    What’s needed now, is some kind of elaborate philosophical argument for why it’s good to have an Advertising Standards Authority and a Broadcasting Standards Authority for people to complain to, but not a “new media” Standards authority.

    Baiter…? ;-)

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  7. Redbaiter (8,350 comments) says:

    “The proposed NMSA will have no govt appointees and have no power to fine. It will be opt in, and like the Press Council have the power to require corrections etc.”

    OK, but isn’t that just being a bit precious? What does this mean?

    “To gain the full legal rights of news media (which are extensive), an entity or person must be accountable to a published code of ethics and the NMSA.”

    I can’t really understand what this means, but it sounds like its making subscription to this entity compulsory by means of common sense to anyone who writes anything that could be construed as “news”. A pretty cloudy definition. Above its says membership is voluntary. So what is the real position?

    “NZ on Air funding of news and current affairs will only be open to media that are members of NMSA.”

    More government pressure being applied.

    Sorry. I just do not trust the Law Commission and I do not think in our current political climate any government body should be telling us what we can read or write and suggesting law changes aimed at this.

    Current laws are sufficient.

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  8. Redbaiter (8,350 comments) says:

    “And to think it was only yesterday some of us were cheering on complaints about tui billboards and “sub-standard” humour in general…”

    FFS, you idiot-

    There is a big difference between personally disapproving of something and advocating for legislation to prevent its occurence.

    WHY DON”T YOU LEFTIST DUMMIES EVER GET THIS SIMPLE DISTINCTION?????

    ???????????????????????????????????????????

    ???????????????????????????????????????????

    ???????????????????????????????????????????.

    Its about personal standards- not government enforcement.

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  9. flipper (3,950 comments) says:

    Further to my earlier comment, I sent DPF’s report to a buddy in Australia. He is a former President of the Australia, New Zealand and Pacific rim newspaper publishers assn.

    His comment is illuminating, and of more value than the fawning acceptance of of the views idiot academics (the law commissioners) ….who might best be described as “over educated idiots”:

    ” Be careful what you wish for my friend. The devil is in the small print at the bottom of your email. Look at the third recommendation, for example: to gain the full legal rights etc. This means you do not have a free press. You have one only if you sign up to a published code of ethics and the NMSA. That’s a half free press however well intentioned.

    If you are defamed, pursue a defamation action. If you don’t like a particular journal don’t read/buy it. There is no place for government in the operation of the press. “

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  10. Redbaiter (8,350 comments) says:

    Very little discussion on an issue that has so many implications for principles of freedom of expression.

    Kiwiblog is more and more about tired old jokes in General Debate.

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