Review good, framing of it bad

Simon Power has announced a review of new media:

Justice Minister Simon Power has asked the Law Commission to review the adequacy of regulations around how the Internet interacts with the justice system.

“I’ve ordered this review because it’s imperative the law keeps pace with technology and that we have one set of rules for all news media,” Mr Power said.

I am a supporter of there being a review, and have in fact advocated for it. But I have to say the way the Minister has framed it is regrettable and rather confrontational.

First of all it may make a nice slogan, but the status quo doesn’t have one set of rules – broadcast media have very different rules to print media.

“At the moment we’ve got two tracks – conventional media and the so-called ‘new media’ – intersecting with the justice system, and it’s not sustainable.

“It’s a bit of a Wild West out there in cyberspace at the moment, because bloggers and online publishers are not subject to any form of regulation or professional or ethical standards.

This is another slogan which means little (and remember I do actually favour a review). First of all bloggers are subject to the law – as have been demonstrated of late. The notion of regulating bloggers (beyond the normal requirement to obey the law) or imposing some sort of “professional standards” on them is ridicolous fancy. Bloggers are simply citizens having a say. Simon Power makes it sound like he thinks you should have to apply for permission to have a voice online. Now that may not be Simon’s intent, but the way he has framed this issue is incredibly bad.

“Issues I’m concerned about include how trials can be prejudiced by information posted on websites and seen by jurors, real-time online streaming of court cases, breaches of court suppression orders, and re-publication of a libel.

Issues which I helped facilitate discussion of at last year’s R v the Internet seminar. They are good issues to discuss.

It will focus on whether either of the two existing industry watchdogs – the Broadcasting Standards Authority and the Press Council – could provide a suitable vehicle for regulating unregulated forms of new media.

Yeah, and lets also give them the power to fine MPs if they say nasty things on their Facebook pages.

Having said that, it is worth noting the Press Council is self-regulation, not external regulation. One could discuss options such as allowing bloggers to voluntarily sign up to the Press Council, if they wish to do so as a way to enhance their reputation. But you then have issues around who covers costs of the Council – considering most blogs are non-commercial.

Mr Power says the public will have the opportunity to have their say when the commission releases an issues paper by December next year.

That is December 2011? Good – this should not be rushed.

As I said I am pleased the Law Commission is doing this review, as there are potentially even benefits for bloggers in it. But the way the Minister’s press statement has framed the issues is not good, and likely to rub a lot of people up the wrong way.

I will be advocating to the Law Commission, and InternetNZ, that they look to convene some workshops next year to discuss and define some of the issues.

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