THE NEWS MEDIA MEETS 'NEW MEDIA': RIGHTS, RESPONSIBILITIES AND REGULATION IN THE DIGITAL AGE
The Law Commission is seeking New Zealanders’ views on the role of the news media in society and the standards to which they should be held to account.
In its latest Issues Paper, The News Media Meets ‘New Media’: rights, responsibilities and regulation in the digital age, the Law Commission puts forward a number of preliminary proposals for reforming the regulatory environment in which the news media operate.
It also asks whether the legal rights and responsibilities which have traditionally applied to news media should be extended to some new media publishers, such as current affairs bloggers and web-only news sites. [my emphasis]
Commissioner John Burrows said the news media, like every institution, have been profoundly affected by the internet. They no longer have a monopoly on the generation and dissemination of news.
“This Issues Paper looks at what distinguishes this special class of publisher called the ‘news media’ from other types of communicators.
“It asks whether, and how, the news media should be regulated in this digital world in which the traditional boundaries between print and broadcasting are dissolving, and where anyone can break news and comment on public affairs.”
The Commission’s preliminary proposal is to replace the Broadcasting Standards Authority, which currently regulates all traditional broadcasters, and the industry-based Press Council, which regulates print media, with a new converged news media regulator that would be independent of both the Government and the news media.
The Commission is suggesting the new independent regulator could extend its jurisdiction to any new digital publishers, such as bloggers or news websites, who wished to access the legal privileges and exemptions currently reserved for traditional news media organisations.
“The regulator we are proposing would have no impact on citizens exercising their free speech rights on the internet. It would only apply to those who wished to be classified as ‘news media’ for the purposes of the law,” said the project’s lead Commissioner, Professor John Burrows.
Professor Burrows said the Commission was also asked to look at a second question: whether the laws which deal with crimes such as harassment, intimidation, defamation, and breach of privacy are fit for purpose in the digital age. This inquiry extends beyond the news media to all forms of communication.
“Our preliminary consultation with groups such as NetSafe indicates that alongside the positive impacts of the internet there is always the potential for humans to abuse this extraordinary new technology. Our report contains many examples of how these abuses can result in serious harm.”
The Commission is seeking public feedback on a proposal to establish a special Communications Tribunal, that would operate at a lower level than the courts, but which would be able to grant a range of remedies including, for example, take down orders, when content clearly breached the law and could cause serious harm.
“NetSafe tells us that many people come to them feeling defeated and powerless after attempting to have seriously offensive or damaging material taken down. What is needed is a body capable of taking swift and proportionate action when there has been a clear breach of the law.”
The Commission is also proposing amendments to a number of statutes, including the Harassment Act, the Telecommunications Act and the Human Rights Act , to ensure provisions designed to prevent serious speech abuses are capable of being applied in the digital era.
It is also considering recommending making it an offence to incite someone to commit suicide, irrespective of whether or not they do so, or attempt to do so, and an offence to impersonate someone with malicious intent.
“We hope this paper, and the preliminary proposals it makes for reform, will be widely debated in New Zealand – in both traditional and new media fora. The issues it grapples with are vital to the health of our democracy.”
Submissions on the paper can be made until 12 March, 2012. The Commission will also be hosting online forums to debate its proposals in February 2012.