HDCA misuse?

Newsroom reports:

Former New Zealander of the Year Sir Ray Avery has laid a complaint against Newsroom.co.nz under the Harmful Digital Communications Act over a series of news reports on his background, products and promises.

Avery has told Netsafe, the legal agent for considering complaints under the Act, the reports have caused him serious emotional distress and amount to a form of digital harm – and wants Newsroom to consider removing them and to agree not to write further news stories about him. …

Newsroom co-editor Mark Jennings said: “This action is a misguided attempt to stop journalists highlighting important issues of public interest, by co-opting the harmful digital communications regime to try to keep investigative stories off the internet.

“We don’t believe this is what Parliament had in mind and we will oppose this tactic, on behalf of all news media. The public has a right to know, especially when it is being asked to donate money.”

Researcher and media commentator Gavin Ellis raised the spectre of someone using the Harmful Digital Communications Act to suppress news stories about themselves in his book Complacent Nation in 2016.

“My firm view is that this is a misuse of legislation which, unfortunately, was drafted too loosely to prevent this sort of complaint. I was told when I raised my concerns that the threshold (for accepting complaints) would be set high. This complaint, if accepted by Netsafe, suggests the bar has not been set high enough.”

Ellis, a former editor-in-chief of the New Zealand Herald and chair of the Media Freedom Committee, said complainants over news coverage had other ways of seeking redress. “Ray Avery has other regulatory and legal avenues that he can pursue. If he must, he should use them. This law was designed to curb cyber-bullying, not as an alternative to the New Zealand Media Council.”

I agree that the appropriate avenue for Sir Ray is a complaint to the NZ Media Council rather than using the HDCA.

It was one of the concerns about the HDCA that people may use it to stop stories that are critical of them.

I have no doubt the complaint will be unsuccessful, but it still imposes a cost on media to deal with it.

It does raise an issue about whether Netsafe should automatically accept every complaint, or whether it should decline to try and mediate when they see a case such as this one.

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