In a recent address on the impact of technology on adolescents, Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Scientist, expressed the view that the internet and digital technology have brought about the most profound change in how humans communicate since our species first acquired speech.1

This report is about how the law should respond to this challenge. It addresses two distinct but related questions arising from the digital revolution. The first of these concerns the “news media”, who currently enjoy a special legal status, and how this class of communicator should be defined and held accountable to the public in an age when anyone can now break news and broadcast it to the world.

The second question relates to all citizens exercising their rights to freedom of expression. It concerns the laws which are designed to protect our interests in privacy, reputation and the right to a fair trial and how they can best be adapted and enforced in the digital age.

The law has always struggled to keep pace with technology – never more so than now, given the unprecedented pace and impact of technological change. But we are not alone in grappling with these issues: our review has taken place against the backdrop of a number of major international inquiries into news media standards and the impacts of technological and content convergence on the regulatory environment.

Law reform in such dynamic times demands a first principles approach. It requires us to identify the enduring public interests the law is intended to protect. And to provide solutions which are proportionate and appropriate in the New Zealand context.

Underpinning all the recommendations in this report is our recognition of the fundamental importance of freedom of expression. Alongside this there is a clear public interest in ensuring those who are significantly harmed by unlawful communication have access to meaningful remedies.

Our report also recognises that in this age of abundant information there continues to be a vital public interest in being able to distinguish information which purports to provide a reliable and authoritative account of what is happening in our country and the world. For this we need a news media which is responsible, independent, and genuinely accountable to the public on whose trust they depend. This is so irrespective of whether these communicators belong to what we describe as the “mainstream media” or whether they are part of the burgeoning new media who are increasingly fulfilling many of the essential functions of the fourth estate.

Sir Grant Hammond Signature

Grant Hammond

1Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Scientist “The Impact of the Technological World on Adolescent Health and Behaviour" (Families Commission seminar, Te Wharewaka o Poneke, Wellington, 20 February 2013).