The News Media’s rights and responsibilities
The policy problem
2.54 The system of legal and organisational privileges matched by countervailing responsibilities outlined in this chapter was not designed for the digital publishing environment. In this environment it is possible for former print companies to distribute audio-visual content and for broadcasters to produce text-based news. It is also possible for anyone with access to the internet and digital publishing technology to report the news.
2.55As a consequence of this new converged media environment there is now:
- a lack of clarity in law as to which types of publishers should qualify for the statutory privileges and exemptions which at the moment apply to the “news media”;
- a lack of regulatory parity, both between different types of traditional news media (print and broadcasters) and between traditional news media and the new digital publishers.
2.56Most of the laws which confer privileges or exemptions on the news media were drafted in the pre-internet era. As a consequence most provide no assistance in determining the parameters of the term “news media”. Furthermore the statutory provisions which do provide some clarification of the term are often inconsistent in their definition. Some are confined to broadcasting and newspapers, a reflection of their age, and need to be updated.
2.57At the same time, gaps and inconsistences are emerging with respect to the standards and accountabilities which apply to news content in the digital environment. For example, while it is possible to complain to the BSA about a serious inaccuracy in a news or current affairs programme that has been broadcast on radio or television, it is not possible to complain to the BSA about content made available on-demand from a broadcaster’s website, or about the text in a story on a broadcaster’s website.
2.58The Broadcasting Act was designed in an era when programmes were live-streamed for the simultaneous reception by a mass audience: today, increasingly, content is accessed on-demand by individuals on an array of platforms and devices, including mobile apps. The Act specifically excludes this “on-demand” content from its jurisdiction. (In February 2013 a coalition of New Zealand broadcasters launched the Online Media Standards Authority (OMSA), to deal with complaints about online content on mainstream broadcasters’ websites. We describe OMSA and consider its implications for our proposed regulatory reforms in chapter 5.)
2.59There is also a lack of parity in the regulatory environment within which traditional broadcasters and online news publishers operate. Audio-visual content published on a newspaper website is not subject to the same statutory complaints system which applies to broadcasters, but rather to the self-regulatory regime enforced by the Press Council.
2.60The provision of high quality video is likely to become an increasingly important component of all news content providers over the next five years. From a consumer’s perspective it is difficult to justify why different complaints regimes should apply to news videos depending on whether they are produced by a former newsprint company or by a broadcaster.
2.61At the same time the majority of new web-based publishers of news and current affairs, both commercial and amateur, are not currently accountable to any regulator or complaints system – other than the basic legal framework which applies to all citizens, restricting speech which defames or otherwise causes harm. In chapter 2 of our Issues Paper we described this broad spectrum of online entities who are now engaged to a greater or lesser degree in generating, aggregating and disseminating news and commentary on matters of public interest to New Zealanders.
2.62These include professionally produced commercial and semi-commercial news sites such as Scoop, interest.co.nz, NewsRoom, Yahoo!New Zealand, Voxy and MSN.NZ, popular news and current affairs blog sites such as, Kiwiblog, Whale Oil Beef Hooked and Public Address which generate both news and commentary, and the many community message boards and forums where the news is debated and occasionally broken. While most if not all of these sites have developed their own publishing standards and terms and conditions for contributors, some may welcome the opportunity to access the same legal and organisational rights, and be subject to the same accountabilities, as currently apply to mainstream news media.
2.63 These are just some of the drivers which sit behind the first two questions posed in our terms of reference. From a public policy perspective they require us to consider whether, and in what circumstances it may be in the public interest to:
- extend the legal privileges and exemptions which currently apply to traditional news media to some new publishers; and
- require this category of publishers to be held accountable, via some sort of regulatory regime, to the types of journalistic standards that have traditionally applied to news media.
2.64In the following chapter we examine the public interest arguments underpinning these questions.