Chapter 3
Defining “news media” for the purposes of the law


The issues

3.1In the preceding chapter we set out the legal and organisational rights, and countervailing responsibilities, assigned to the “news media” in New Zealand. The primary objective of this review is to identify who should be subject to this system of rights and responsibilities and in what circumstances. In order to do this we are first required to define this term, “news media.”

3.2As discussed in our introductory chapter, before the advent of the internet there was little practical necessity to consider the question: who are the “news media”? The “news media” simply comprised the public service broadcasters and corporates which between them produced the nation’s daily newspapers, television and radio news and current affairs programmes. These were the entities, most of them privately owned, entitled to access the special legal privileges set out in the preceding chapter, and these were the entities held accountable to the statutory and ethical standards associated with the exercise of this type of communication.

3.3 However, in the era of the read/write web, the traditional news media, which we refer to in this report as the mainstream media, have lost their monopoly on the generation and dissemination of news and commentary. In chapter 2 of our Issues Paper we described the broad spectrum of online entities who are now engaged, to a greater or lesser degree, in generating, curating, aggregating, and disseminating news and commentary on matters of public interest to New Zealanders.98 These include the traditional print and broadcast companies who are now converging to become multi-media companies publishing on a variety of devices and platforms; web-only news and news aggregation services and a diverse community of bloggers whose primary focus is news and current affairs.

3.4In this digital ecosystem there is a growing symbiosis between new and old media, and those who consume and create content. Mainstream media are making increasing use of social media to distribute content, drive traffic, source news and engage audiences.

3.5This blurring of boundaries between professional and amateur, moderated and un-moderated, corporate and social media is a defining characteristic of the new media landscape. It also gives rise to fundamental questions about the nature of news, the role of the news media, and the rationale for continuing to distinguish this type of publisher from other content creators.

3.6For example, in an age when every citizen has the potential to “broadcast themselves” why should the law continue to assign a special legal status to just one class of publisher, the “news media”? Equally, in an age when ordinary citizens are able to exercise unprecedented choice and control over the quality and quantity of information they access about the world around them, what justification remains for imposing higher standards on a small sector of that vast market of content creators – those known as “news media”?

3.7In order to answer these questions we must first ask what purpose is served in preserving this special arrangement for news media, however defined. In chapter 4 of our Issues Paper, we undertook such a first principles exercise, unpacking the ideas and assumptions which underpin the current system of news media rights and responsibilities.

3.8We attempted to define the core characteristics of journalism and to identify the attributes which distinguish the “news media” from other content creators. We argued that the news media perform a number of vital functions in society and for this reason there was a clear public interest in continuing to recognise them as a distinct class of publisher with special rights and accountabilities. We then put forward a preliminary definition of “news media” for the purpose of determining who should be subject to these rights and responsibilities.

3.9In this chapter we re-examine these core propositions in the light of submissions and further research and analysis. We then set out the conclusions we have reached about the nature of news and the role of the “news media” and how it should be defined in the digital era.

98Law Commission The News Media Meets ‘New Media’: Rights, Responsibilities and Regulation in the Digital Age (NZLC IP27, 2011) [Issues Paper].