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


5.1In the preceding chapter we argue that society as a whole needs a mechanism by which the news media can be held accountable and citizens can access meaningful remedies. As we discuss in chapter 2, there are currently two bodies in New Zealand responsible for upholding news media standards and providing citizens with remedies when these standards are breached: the industry-led Press Council and the statutorily established Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA).186

5.2A central policy question we have been asked to address is how to deal with the lack of parity and the gaps in the coverage of these two complaints bodies. These gaps have occurred as new web-based publishers undertaking “news-like activities” emerge and as traditional print and broadcast media converge online. Our terms of reference required us to consider whether the jurisdiction of either of the existing complaints bodies should be extended to some of these new digital news media.

5.3The paradigm shift in the media environment brought about by the internet requires us to adopt a first principles approach to this question. The two existing complaints bodies pre-date the digital era. They reflect an analogue world where the sources of news and information were far more limited and the formats in which news was delivered were confined to print and broadcast.

5.4 A regulatory design paper describes the complex matrix of factors that need to be taken into account when considering the best options for influencing organisational behaviour:187

The appropriateness of any particular regulatory strategy is contingent on the nature of the regulatory problem and overall regulatory objective. It requires an appreciation of the legal, political, and market context of any particular policy problem. It also requires an understanding of the different capabilities and resources available to government to influence behaviour and conduct. And, finally, it requires an understanding of the relative strengths and weaknesses of different regulatory approaches, or mix of approaches, and when and how these are best used. Having regard to all these factors, the task is to select the strategy that best promotes the public interest.

5.5In the preceding chapters we examine the nature of the regulatory problem and objective, and the unique policy challenges associated with attempts to influence the behaviour of the news media through externally imposed systems of accountability. We also consider the commercial and competitive pressures under which the mainstream news media are currently operating as a consequence of disruptive technology.

5.6In this chapter we turn to an analysis of the existing complaints bodies and how they are functioning in this digital environment. We focus on the policy problem raised by convergence, the responses to this problem from the news media and the regulators, and consider the available regulatory options. We also critique the strengths and weaknesses of the current dual regulatory approaches against the established benchmarks of effective regulation. We report what submitters had to say about the preliminary proposals for reform put forward in our Issues Paper and explain some of the initiatives taken by key media stakeholders to address the gaps identified in our Issues Paper.

5.7We begin with a discussion of how technological and content convergence is fundamentally changing the regulatory environment for the news media and why, in our view, this requires a new approach.

186Another industry-led complaints body, the Online Media Standards Authority (OMSA), has been established to deal with complaints about online content on broadcasters’ websites, but had not commenced operation as at the date of this report. See [5.23] – [5.24].
187Ministry of Economic Development (now the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) Regulating for Success: A Framework (2009) at 84.