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Commission calls for media watchdog

The days of the digital wild west could be numbered, if the Law Commission has its way. In its latest paper News Media Meets New Media, the commission has proposed a single regulator across all types of news media in New Zealand. One “independent of both government and the news industry,” that will outline the standards and accountabilities that it believes should apply to all news media and bloggers, in the digital age.
Currently, newspapers and other print media use the Press Council as a regulatory body to hear complaints over the accuracy and fairness of cover. However, there is a gap in the legislation for the regulation of photos, text, video and audio material which is published on the internet. The proposed new authority would encompass both print and online media.

The report considers problems emerging within the web environment, including issues like cyber-bullying, harassment and defamation in social media. It asks if the law can be adapted to the new publishing environment and whether the courts are the best forum for resolving these sorts of disputes between free speech and rights to privacy and reputation. Under its proposal news media could only continue to enjoy privileges such as access to closed court proceedings and exemptions from a raft of legislation including the Privacy and Defamation Acts if they submitted to the new body.

The proposal includes two options for membership; voluntary and compulsory. But it is believed that major news outlets would join in order to maintain their legal standing as news media and to keep the associated privileges. Under the compulsory option, publishers who produce news as a business or commercial activity and those providing broad or general news services to a wide audience would be required to join. Bloggers could voluntarily join under both options and would therefore qualify for news media privileges, which they are currently denied.

The public and interested parties have until 12 March 2012 to make submissions on the commission’s proposals.

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