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Does New Zealand need tighter media restrictions?

Friday 30 Nov 2012 8:21 a.m.

The Leveson inquiry on media practices in the UK has released its report. The inquiry has investigated shocking cases of subterfuge and breaches of privacy all in an attempt to get a "scoop".

Do the same practices happen in New Zealand and is the Government looking to try to and enforce stricter regulation and restrictions on New Zealand media?

The editor of New Zealand Woman's Weekly says local media do not go to the extremes of their British counterparts, and she does not endorse the practices adopted by some of the UK tabloids.

“It was incredibly shocking actually, shocking to every journalist I know really. I have worked for [Rupert] Murdoch in Australia and tabloid media here in New Zealand and in Australia and I've never heard of anything like phone hacking,” says Sarah Stuart.

Like the UK, our print media are supervised by self regulation, and Stuart says it works.

“I think the Press Council is working really well in New Zealand and the Press Council is something we take really seriously,” she says.

One of the country's highest respected media law experts isn't as convinced, saying the Press Council is not well known and is seen as too soft. That's in contrast to our other media watchdog, the statutory Broadcasting Standards Authority, which can enforce severe penalties if needed.

“Broadcasters are subject to a tougher regime than newspapers, so that's a bit unbalanced,” says media law expert Ursula Cheer.

Today the lines between print and broadcasting are increasingly blurred thanks largely to the internet, making it harder for Governments to work out how best to have an independent press free from state control but responsible and accountable.

“We want the media to be able to do their job vigorously and we want them to be able to find the bad guys if you like and to keep Governments to account and to keep people in power to account,” says analyst Linda Clark.

New Zealand's own Law Commission is currently looking at regulation here, and how the minefield that is the internet should be negotiated. It's due to complete its report early next year.

“I think the Law Commission will in the end want a single regulator across all forms of the media and I think it will want online media - which is a big gap at the moment - it will want that brought under the umbrella,” says Ms Clark.

She says a single regulator won't necessarily mean tougher regulation, and Ms Cheer says a mix between the BSA and the Press Council systems might be on the cards - an independent regulator that has statutory backing if needed, suggesting such a watchdog could be half funded by Government and half funded by media organisations, not too different to what's been called for by Lord Justice Leveson for Britain.

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