Summary of recommendations
39We recommend that the New Zealand Press Council, the Broadcasting Standards Authority and the Online Media Standards Authority be replaced with a single independent standards body with jurisdiction over all news media broadcasters, newspapers, and online providers.
40This body would not be established by statute but it would be indirectly recognised in statutory provisions that create the various news media privileges. It should have a separate legal existence independent of the industry. It should preferably be an incorporated society. The new body would be independent of both the state and the media industry in both its adjudication and governance structures. There should be no government or industry involvement in appointments to the new body. We suggest this body could be called the News Media Standards Authority (NMSA).
41The NMSA would be responsible for enforcing standards across all types of news publishers, irrespective of the format or distribution channel. It would adjudicate complaints relating to news, current affairs, news commentary and content such as documentaries and factual programming which purports to provide the public with a factual account of real events involving real people.
42As is the case with New Zealand’s Advertising Standards Authority, the Press Council and OMSA, membership of the NMSA would be entirely voluntary. However, the following advantages would be available to those publishers who were willing to be subject to the accountability of this independent standards body:
- Legal exemptions and privileges: only those publishers who belong to the standards body would be eligible for the legal privileges and exemptions currently available to the news media;
- Complaints resolution and mediation: the standards body would provide members with a quick and effective mechanism for dealing with complaints which might otherwise end up in costly court action, this could be of particular benefit in defamation and privacy cases;
- Public funding: a consequence of our recommendations is that only publishers (new and mainstream) who belong to the standards body would be eligible for funding support from New Zealand on Air for the production of news and current affairs and other factual programming;
- Brand advantage: membership of the standards body would provide a form of quality assurance and reputational advantage. We also anticipate it would become the benchmark used to determine who is to access other non-legal media privileges such as entry to the Parliamentary Press Gallery, admission to press conferences or access to embargoed releases, for example. The membership status of a publisher could be indicated through the adoption of a “qualmark” indicating compliance with the appropriate standards and complaints procedures.
43In chapter 7 we provide a detailed explanation of the proposed structure, functions and powers of this proposed new standards body. It is intended that the NMSA would be able to provide speedy and effective remedies when standards have been breached. We recommend a wider range of powers for the new standards body. They would be spelled out in membership contracts between the standards body and the media agencies, and should include:
- a requirement, as at present, to publish an adverse decision in the medium concerned, the regulator having power to direct the prominence and positioning of this publication;
- a requirement to take-down specified material from the website;
- a requirement that incorrect material be corrected;
- a requirement that a right of reply be granted to a person;
- a requirement to publish an apology; and
- a censure.
We do not recommend, however, any monetary sanctions, either fines or compensation.
44We recommend amending the various statutes which currently confer privileges or exemptions specifically on the news media to ensure that in each instance the term “news media” is consistently defined as meaning entities which meet the following statutory criteria:
- a significant element of their publishing activities involves the generation and/or aggregation of news, information and opinion of current value;
- they disseminate this information to a public audience;
- publication is regular and not occasional; and
- the publisher must be accountable to a code of ethics and to the NMSA.
45In essence our recommendation formalises the unwritten social contract which has traditionally existed between the news media and the public they serve. It does this by cementing the connection between the rights and freedoms of the media and their corresponding responsibilities.
46This concept is not new. The Criminal Procedure Act 2011 already contains a provision which restricts certain court reporting privileges to entities which are subject to a code of ethics and which are accountable to either the Press Council or the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA). The Press Council, a non-statutory body, therefore has a measure of statutory recognition under the current law. Our recommendation is to align all the statutes conferring privileges and exemptions specifically on the news media with this approach. We consider that formally linking the privileges of the news media with accountability to a standards body in this way is necessary to ensure a full and varied membership of the NMSA.