New media complaints body proposed

Last updated 14:40 26/03/2013
SIR GRANT HAMMOND
SIR GRANT HAMMOND: Unlike the Leveson inquiry, his review was not driven by a crisis in confidence in the mainstream media.

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A new "one-stop-shop" for complaints about the media is proposed by the Government's legal watchdog.

The Law Commission today released it recommendations for the news media, which has been transformed by the internet.

It wants a single body with a "consistent set of news media standards" to adjudicate complaints. It would be independent of the government and not established by legislation.

News media would only be allowed to enjoy privileges and exemptions if they sign up to the new body. Current affairs bloggers would also be permitted to join.

Currently the voluntary, self regulatory body, the Press Council, dealt with print media. Television and radio responded to the statutory Broadcasting Standards Authority. But material published on the internet fell through a regulatory gap.

The Commission had originally proposed the organisation be recognised in statue, but this was met with opposition from media outlets.

In the last few weeks Britain's politicians and press had been wrangling over statutory regulation in the wake of an inquiry by Lord Leveson into a phone-hacking scandal.

In a late-night deal it was decided the British watchdog would be established by royal charter - not by a statute passed by Parliament.

Law Commission President Sir Grant Hammond said that unlike the Leveson inquiry, his review was not driven by a crisis in confidence in the mainstream media.

It was prompted by concern about "gaps and disparities in the legal and ethical standards and accountabilities that apply to news and current affairs" through the rise of online news.

"At the moment New Zealanders wishing to complain about unethical, damaging or inaccurate news content confront a confusing mix of standards and complaints processes - or none at all - depending on whether the content has been created by a broadcaster, a newspaper company or an online publisher," he said.

News media who join the body would be eligible for legal exemptions and privileges currently available to the them, including from Privacy and Defamation Acts.

Hammond said it would also offer "a form of quality assurance and reputational advantage."

The standards body would also provide members with a "quick and effective" mechanism for complaints which might otherwise end up in court.

Only entities that join up would be eligible for New Zealand On Air Funding.

The Commission was recommending the Chief Ombudsman appoint someone, such as a retired judge, to oversee the establishment of the new body.

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The Broadcasting Act would have to be amended as well as legislation which conferred privileges and exemptions on the media.

The recommendations were contained in a report tabled in Parliament today and would now be considered by Justice Minister Judith Collins.
Collins said she would seek views from the media industry before formally responding later this year.

She said laws governing media regulations, freedoms and protections "pre-date the digital era."

"Nowadays, virtually anyone with a computer and an internet connection can publish and spread news and opinion," she said.

An earlier aspect of the report, on cyber-bullying and internet harm, was fast-tracked by the Commission and Collins was considering proposals.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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