Chapter 1

Our approach

First principles

1.71Digital communication technologies and media convergence require us to adopt a first principles approach to the questions posed in our terms of reference. They require us to re-evaluate the public interest in continuing to recognise the news media as a special class of publisher, with access to legal rights not available to ordinary citizens, and in continuing to hold the news media accountable to standards not applied to ordinary communicators.

1.72In chapter 3 of our report we consider the public interests underpinning the first part of this proposition: the case for preserving the news media as an entity with special legal and organisational rights and privileges. We consider what differentiates “news media” from other types of communicators and draw on these characteristics to construct a definition of “news media” for the purposes of determining which entities should be entitled to access the news media’s privileges and exemptions.

1.73In chapter 4 we undertake a similar exercise with respect to the question of standards and accountabilities. Again, we adopt a first principles approach, asking whether there is a defensible rationale for imposing different standards and accountabilities on the news media and, if so, what form these should take. This exercise involves the careful balancing of two critical public interests: the public interest in a robust and unfettered news media; and the public interest in an ethical media, subject to effective and appropriate accountability mechanisms.

1.74In order to determine the most appropriate approach to news media accountability in the digital environment we were required to assess both the potential and actual harms arising from ethical breaches by mainstream and new media, and the effectiveness of the remedies available under the existing complaints regimes.

1.75Unlike Britain and Australia, there is a paucity of independent empirical data measuring public trust in the New Zealand news media. The news media themselves are conflicted when it comes to assessing their own performance and there is currently no way of independently assessing the level of complaints they receive from the public or how these are resolved.58
1.76To assist us in assessing the scope of the problem we commissioned an independent market research company, Big Picture, to undertake research into a number of critical issues under consideration as part of the review including public perceptions of news media standards, accountabilities and complaints bodies.59

1.77In chapter 4 of this report we draw on this research, submissions, and an analysis of the complaints appealed to the Press Council and the BSA over the past five years to provide some assessment of the problem.

1.78In chapters 5 and 6 we then move on to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the existing accountability mechanisms and consider the options for reform with particular focus on the proposals put forward in the Finkelstein and Leveson Reports.

1.79Having considered the various options available for providing public accountability for their power, we turn, in chapter 7 to outline our proposal to create a new converged independent standards body for all news media, irrespective of format or delivery channel.

1.80 Our recommendations in chapter 7 are guided by a number of principles and propositions which have much in common with those underpinning the Australian Convergence Review and Classification Review referred to earlier. Foremost among these is the recognition that the internet has created a step-change in the way in which individuals are able to exercise their right to freedom of expression – protecting this right is of fundamental importance.

1.81 Accordingly, we endorse the position adopted by both the Australian reviews which concluded that for reasons of principle and practicality in this new era of information abundance the scope of any regulatory intervention must go no further than that which can be justified in order to meet the specific policy objectives.60

1.82 The policy objectives of our recommended reforms are to:

1.83Finally in chapter 8 we address the issue of entertainment content. Although the regulation of this type of content largely falls outside the scope of our project, we outline some of the issues that we consider will need to be considered in any future review.

58In ch 4, at [4.88] – [4.100], we discuss trends in the number and type of adjudications made by the Press Council and the BSA as one indicator of the level of satisfaction with news media standards in New Zealand.
59Big Picture Marketing Strategy and Research Ltd Public Perception of News Media Standards and Accountability in New Zealand (summary of the online survey conducted for the Law Commission, April 2012) <> [Big Picture Research].
60For the 10 principles which guided the Convergence Review see Convergence Review Committee: Emerging Issues (discussion paper, Canberra, 2011) at 8 – 10. For the principles underpinning the Classification Review, above n 43, see the report summary at 13.