'Wild West' internet not the only frontier

Those who lament the law-free nature of the internet should consider the state of non-net society.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor on

Those who lament the law-free nature of the internet should consider the state of non-net society.

Last week New Zealand Justice Minister Simon Power announced that the country's Law Commission was going to investigate the laws around the internet.

"At the moment, we've got two tracks — conventional media and the so-called 'new media' intersecting with the justice system, and it's not sustainable.

"It's a bit of a Wild West out there in cyberspace at the moment, because bloggers and online publishers are not subject to any form of regulation or professional or ethical standards," he said.

Now, I don't know where the minister has been for the last few months. He should know that one of the country's most notorious bloggers has been before the courts and fined many thousands of dollars for breaching name suppression rulings.

As New Zealand's blogosphere and a few lawyers noted yesterday, doesn't this case show that the existing system already works? That bloggers are accountable to existing law?

It's not just the matter of name suppression, something the government admits the courts dish out too freely.

But the blogs and other online forums must also obey laws on libel and slander. As for ethics and accuracy, that is self-regulating. Woe betide any blogger who gets their facts wrong. Their opinions are already open to question.

Of course, there will be other issues that make regulation of the internet complicated.

How could New Zealand hope to regulate bloggers or anyone overseas? What about hosting? What about the technology that hides your location?

Fortunately, there is plenty of time for the people to have their say, with the Law Commission not due to release an issues paper on the subject until December 2011.

In the meantime, how has the supposedly responsible mainstream media behaved lately?

Well, Auckland recently had its elections for the new Supercity. A rather distinctive looking Indian chap was charged with electoral fraud. We were told he was a Labour candidate but right until the day before polling he had his name suppressed, so no one was supposed to know who he was.

Covering the story, TV3 in its news program showed a blurry picture of the chap as he stood next to the man who would be elected mayor. It seemed pretty obvious who it was.

TV1 went even better, with the reporter filing her story in front of campaign hoarding with the man's name and photo directly behind her.

Now, what was that about the internet being a "Wild West" and the mainstream media being more responsible?

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