7.177 The question is how and when the NMSA should be set up. Presently the Press Council covers newspapers and newspaper websites. It has also recently assisted other websites to handle complaints – Scoop, Yahoo!New Zealand and MSN NZ for example. Being unconstrained by statute it is capable of extending its jurisdiction even further. It could for example even admit to membership small news websites and bloggers.
7.179When OMSA has bedded in there will be two parallel self-regulatory systems doing the same job in relation to different platforms of delivery. A person who is adversely affected by material published in a number of media may have to lodge complaints with two bodies (or if it has been broadcast as well, with three). They may get different outcomes from each body. The jurisdiction of each complaints body is not the same and therefore gaps will remain. That seems less than consumer friendly. Nor is it economically efficient to finance separate personnel and administrative services. We maintain the view that there should be a single standards authority with a single point of entry. Convergence of the media themselves must inevitably lead to a convergence of a standards authority.
7.180One option would be to recommend that OMSA and the Press Council should begin discussions with a view to merging their two organisations. That way there would be industry buy-in. But we conclude that this solution is not optimal. The parties may not be able to agree on all details. Moreover, such a process includes the risk that one party might be perceived as “taking over” the other. It is also past focussed and is liable to bring with it “baggage” from the former entities. We therefore consider it is necessary to focus on the establishment of a new body, albeit one which draws on the best features of the bodies which already exist.
7.181The question is how to achieve this. Obviously the media industry needs to be heavily involved in that process of creation, but we think that, to achieve unarguable neutrality and objectivity, an establishment working party needs to be set up. We believe it should be chaired by the nominee of the Chief Ombudsman. The nominee should be an eminent, independent person such as a retired judge. The rest of the group should be appointed by the chairperson after consultation with the industry. They should include representatives of the industry and representatives of the public. Ideally the working party should not exceed seven persons, with industry representatives in the minority.
7.182The working party will obviously need to consult widely. Those consultations should include the Press Council, OMSA and the BSA. It will be essential to draw on the experience of those bodies. Industry acceptance of the eventual model will also be crucial. Without wishing to be prescriptive, we envisage that the tasks of the working party would be as follows:
7.184As we have indicated earlier, our hope is that this can be accomplished without any direct statutory intervention. The media will be better respected if it can. Yet, as we have said, the nature of the exercise requires at least recognition by statute, because the definition of “news media” in the various statutes confirming privileges assumes the existence of such a body.
7.188As we indicated earlier, the setting up and operation of the converged authority should be reviewed after a period of one year. That review should be undertaken by the Chief Ombudsman or her nominee. If there were found to be inadequacies or failures, or if insufficient progress had been made, the possibility of more directive intervention would then have to be considered.