Chapter 5
Convergence – the case for reforming oversight of news standards


5.126We conclude that it is problematic to continue with a parallel regulatory system that involves multiple bodies operating under different criteria.337 Having assessed the various facets of the problem by considering the relevant legal, political, and market contextual factors, as well as the profound technological changes enabling online news dissemination, we are persuaded that the current dual regulatory approach has become untenable due to the issues of regulatory parity to which that approach now gives rise to. A new approach is required.

5.127 The fundamental weakness of both the Press Council and the BSA is the fact that both were designed to operate in a traditional media environment which no longer exists. In other words, neither was designed for the digital era and the convergence of media platforms. While the Press Council has a higher degree of flexibility due to its non-statutory constitution, our view is that neither model is sufficiently convergence-ready and a single converged standards body should deal with all complaints relating to news, current affairs and news commentary based on content provision rather than platform of delivery.

5.128Regulatory convergence was presaged by Gavin Ellis in his 2005 article:338

I would argue that the established reasons for state involvement in the regulation of expression have broken down. The digital future is one in which convergence will render delivery methods immaterial and the replacement of single-medium organisations with multimedia structures will be complete. As the future unfolds it will be increasingly difficult to clearly differentiate between print and broadcasting (streaming video and customised newspapers will be downloaded to one device) and, hence, the dichotomous treatment of print and broadcast will be increasingly questionable.

5.129Our preferred option is for a single converged standards body.339 This is supported by the submissions of some of the major news media organisations including the state broadcasters, MediaWorks, the Media Freedom Committee and the NPA, and other stakeholders such as SPADA and the journalists’ union (the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union).
5.130The BSA supports the review of existing structures and acknowledges that it makes sense for media convergence to be recognised in any reform of the current regime. Radio New Zealand strongly supported the conclusion that there is no longer a strong case for treating newspaper publishers and broadcasters differently. TVNZ made the following key point in its submission:340

The creation of a single body for overseeing news content would also provide a level playing field across all media, ensuring fairness and consistency, promoting cost efficiencies and ensuring greater accessibility for consumers. In our view there is no longer any rational basis to support a multi- or dual-regulator model for news content standards. The basic journalistic standards remain the same regardless of the method of delivery. Convergence has meant that the boundaries between broadcasting, print media and online have become increasingly blurred. In our view the need for a level playing field is a compelling reason for the establishment of a single body to establish and enforce standards across all news content.

5.131There is therefore a measure of consensus in favour of a converged approach, although as we acknowledge earlier in this chapter, there is not unanimity. Among those that support a converged approach, the critical question is what form a new or reformed entity should take.341
5.132The Australian media and communications regulator, ACMA, notes that in a convergent environment, self- or co-regulatory arrangements may be preferable to direct government regulation:342

It has been observed that ‘[c]onvergence brings new stakeholders into market contact and can energise self- and co-regulation, which may outperform unaided statutory regulation’ for a number of reasons, such as lower compliance costs and a better grounding in expert information or market realities. It has been argued that in a convergent environment, media content should be regulated via a system that allows for self- and co-regulatory approaches and emphasises citizen participation and digital media literacy.

5.133It is these more difficult questions to which we now turn, including:

  • Where on the regulatory spectrum should a converged standards body sit?
  • Should membership of that body be voluntary or compulsory?
337With the launch of OMSA, there will be three different complaints bodies.
338Ellis, above n 188, at 78.
339See ch 7 for recommendations to establish a new independent complaints body (the News Media Standards Authority).
340Submission of TVNZ, above n 214, at [16].
341Another issue is the timing of reform and whether a converged approach should be fully implemented in the short term or in stages. See the submission of MediaWorks, above n 203.
342Australian Communications and Media Authority Optimal Conditions for Effective Self- and Co-Regulatory Arrangements (Occasional Paper, 2011) at 9, (footnotes omitted) 12 – 13.