Government shelves New Zealand media regulation review

A single regulator is off the agenda, for now, while new online content providers will not receive the legal privileges of the mainstream media.

The New Zealand Government has shelved an extensive report on media regulation that recommended bloggers, new media content producers and platforms, and traditional media should be brought under the authority of a single regulator.

The review, by the New Zealand Law Commission, was carried out in parallel with the Leveson Enquiry in the UK, prompted by the News Of The World phone hacking scandal, and a similar exercise in Australia.

The Law Commission published its reportThe News Media Meets 'New Media': Rights, Responsibilities and Regulation in the Digital Age, in March, recommending among other changes a single cross-platform media regulator and the extension of the rights of mainstream media to other content producers performing the roles of media.

However, the Government has now opted not to act on the recommendations.

Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss and Justice Minister Judith Collins said this week the Law Commission proposal will be kept in mind as an option should reform be necessary in the future.

“The Government is well aware of the importance of fostering a well-functioning and independent fourth estate,” Foss said.

“While we’re not taking action now, I’d like to send a clear message that the Government expects the news media industry to continue to develop solutions to the regulatory difficulties presented by media using multiple technology platforms.”

The Law Commission report argued there was a strong public interest in "adopting a 'broad-church' definition of 'news media', reflecting the need to nurture a diverse and robust fourth estate during a time of unprecedented commercial and technological disruption."

This was based on an acknowledgment that the commercial model which has funded primary news gathering is under threat and that the institutional news media may not survive the challenges posed by the internet.

"At the same time the virtual elimination of barriers to publishing now makes it possible for any individual or organisation to undertake the core democratic functions assigned to the news media. This has the potential to strengthen democracy and increase the accountability of Parliament and the courts, and other powerful public and private institutions.

"For this reason we conclude it is important to extend the news media’s special legal status to other publishers who are engaged in generating and disseminating news and commentary and in performing the other functions of the fourth estate – provided these entities are willing to be accountable to an independent standards body to ensure these privileges are exercised responsibly."

The report also said there was no justification from a consumer's point of view for retaining format-based news media complaints bodies, largely based on "outmoded distinctions between print and broadcast media".

"Within the next decade it is conceivable that there will be few if any printed daily newspapers. Over the same time period there is likely to be an exponential increase in the amount of audio-visual content accessed on-demand via mobile and other devices," it said.

"In this converged environment consumers must be confident that consistent standards apply to similar types of content irrespective of the format or platform by which it is accessed."

The review concluded there was no need for statutory regulation of the media, an area that has proved highly contentious in the UK and Australia, because it had not found any evidence to challenge the mainstream media’s assertion that New Zealand has an ethical and trustworthy news media.

"Although ... research indicates some concern over the accuracy of the New Zealand media, it did not reveal a wholesale loss of confidence," the report said.