Final Law Commission report on new media and news media

The Law Commission 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 media 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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