The Law Commission of New Zealand is undertaking a review of the current regulatory regime for news media with respect to its adequacy in catering for new and emerging forms of news media – sometimes referred to as the “new media”.  It published a comprehensive “Issues Paper” [Word] for consultation on 12 December 2011.  Responses are required by 12 March 2012 and can be made online.

The Law Commission was asked to deal with three questions

  • How to define “news media” for the purposes of the law;
  • Whether and to what extent the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Standards Authority and/ or the Press Council should be extended to cover currently unregulated news media and, if so, what legislative changes would be required to achieve this end; and
  • Whether then existing criminal and civil remedies for wrongs such as defamation, harassment, breach of confidence and privacy are effective in the new media environment and if not whether alternative remedies may be available.

The Issues Paper is divided into two parts: part 1 deals with how news media should be defined for legal purposes, and how they might be regulated in the era of converged media. Chapters 3 and 4 provide a detailed analysis of the arguments for the existence of a system of privileges and accountabilities for the news media.

In particular, Chapter 4 sets out the philosophy underpinning the issues paper (see, in particular, pages 77 – 94 pars 4.43 – 4.174).   The preliminary conclusion (para 4.169) is that  in order to qualify for special news media privileges and exemptions, publishers must have the following four characteristics:

  • a significant proportion of their publishing activities must involve the generation and/or aggregation of news, information and opinion of current value;
  • they disseminate this information to a public audience;
  • publication must be regular and not occasional; and
  • the publisher must be accountable to a code of ethics and a complaints process.

The Issues paper goes on to outline a preliminary proposal for a new independent news regulator.  It seeks views on the question as to whether the system should be compulsory or voluntary (see paras 6.103 to 6.117) but concludes that, in either event, it should be underpinned by statute (paras 6.118 to 6.123).

The second part of the paper deals with the larger legal framework which governs all speech and communication, irrespective of the medium or who is communicating. It looks at the type of problems which are emerging within the web environment, including issues like cyber-bullying, harassment and defamation in social media, and asks whether the law can be better adapted to this new publishing environment and whether the courts are the best forum for resolving these sorts of disputes between free speech and rights to privacy, reputation and so on.

This is a preliminary paper designed to garner wide public debate and feedback on the scope of the problem and best solutions. It will be followed by a Final Report and recommendations to government in late 2012.

The paper is thorough and impressive piece of work which repays close study.   We have been asked to draw the paper to the attention of our readers.  The New Zealand Law Commission would welcome comment and feedback from Inforrm readers on the proposals which are set out in the Issues paper.