What media standards should apply?

This is a guest post from the Law Commission, 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 media and new media 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)

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