New media regulator proposed
By Lloyd Burr and Kim Choe
The Law Commission has recommended that news and current affairs be regulated by a new authority that replaces the Broadcasting Standards Authority, the Press Council and the Online Media Standards Authority.
It wants to establish the News Media Standards Authority (NMSA) which will be a "one-stop shop" for all news media and current affairs complaints.
Non-news complaints relating to items that are broadcast would still be dealt with by the BSA and non-news complaints relating to online content would be dealt with by the OMSA.
The NMSA would be self-regulated and membership would be voluntary but it is open to bloggers and web-based publishers who are currently unregulated, as well as traditional media.
The lead author of the Commission's report, Professor John Burrows, says all news media has now converged online, and regulation needs to be centralised.
"Television broadcasters have print stories on their news websites and the websites of newspapers have video," he says.
Mr Burrows also says there are serious gaps in the regulation of blogs, but recognises they are different in nature to news media.
"Bloggers need to have a clause about their membership, especially regarding fairness because they are not fair and nor should they be," he says.
Professor Burrows says every news outlet will need to pay to belong to the Authority, but the costs are not yet known – although mainstream media will pay more than bloggers.
Unlike the current BSA system, there will be no financial sanctions for those who breach standards, but there will be take-down notices, requirements to publish or broadcast apologies, and outlets may be ejected from the Authority "in extreme cases".
Former Justice Minister Simon Power asked the Commission in 2010 to define "new media" and decide how currently unregulated online news could best be regulated.
The Commission examined whether the jurisdiction of the current regulatory bodies could be extended to cover new media, but felt a "new level playing field" was required that would be less confusing for the public.
It says independent research commissioned for the review shows New Zealanders want to see universal standards applied consistently, "irrespective of whether they are reading news and current affairs online, watching linear broadcast news, or accessing stories and audio-visual content on-demand or via an app".
The 'advantages of membership'
The Commission says advantages of voluntarily joining the NMSA would include:
- Legal exemptions and privileges: only those media outlets who join the body would be eligible for court reporting privileges and exemptions from provisions in the Privacy Act 1993, Electoral Act 1993, Human Rights Act 1993 and Fair Trading Act 1986.
- Brand advantage: membership would "provide a form of quality assurance and reputational advantage".
- Complaints resolution and mediation: the body would provide "a quick and effective mechanism for dealing with complaints", avoiding the risk of costly court action.
- Public funding: only those belonging to the standards body would be eligible for funding from New Zealand on Air for news, current affairs and other factual programming.
The Commission is recommending the Chief Ombudsman appoint "an experienced facilitator, such as a retired judge" to oversee the setting up of the new body.
Proposed future of current media regulators
Currently, there are three authorities that deal with the standards of media: the Press Council, the BSA and the newly-established OMSA.
Under the NMSA proposal, the jurisdiction of the authorities will change significantly.
Broadcasting Standards Authority
The BSA would cover all broadcast content that is not news, which mainly leaves entertainment programming and infomercials.
Around 80 percent of the BSA's current complaints relate to news and current affairs so its workload would be substantially reduced.
However, new grey areas would likely surface, mainly regarding programming that purports to be factual but is also entertaining like Crime Exposed or Police Ten Seven.
The Press Council is a self-regulatory body which currently deals with complaints against the editorial content of newspapers, magazines and periodicals, including their online equivalents.
Under the NMSA proposal, it is likely the Press Council would become obsolete and its functions taken over.
Online Media Standards Authority
The OMSA was formed last year as a self-regulatory body for the online content all of the mainstream broadcasters.
It will officially launch in May and covers all content from news and current affairs to entertainment.
Under the NMSA, the OMSA would still exist but it would be stripped of dealing with all news-related complaints.