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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

NMSA: news media standards in NZ

With the advent of the internet and particularly the proliferation of internet-equipped devices, there has been much anticipation that the convergence of media will also result in the merger of regulatory bodies. This is coming to a head with the release of the Law Commission's report.

Justice Minister Judith Collins has tabled in Parliament today the Law Commission’s report on regulation of the news media in the digital age.
The report, The News Media Meets ‘New Media’: Rights, Responsibilities and Regulation in the Digital Age, [ pdf here] provides the Law Commission’s recommendations for updating laws regulating our media for the digital era.
The Government will examine the report’s recommendations and seek views from the media industry before formally responding to the report later this year.

The plan posits a separate body to deal with complaints against the news media - not against content per se, but specifically about news and current affairs. There are advantages, but also problems, in sectioning off one form of content as against another and holding that up to different standards and treatment. The Commission readily accepts all the current bodies dealing with news should be in one authority, but does not extend that logic to all content (eg. they say keep the BSA for non-news). The Commission also talks of a new cyber crime of offensiveness and one of hassling - all of which seems rather woolly and suspect at first whiff.

The new authority they see will be an incorporated society of responsible news media organisations and individuals. It will be an enlarged Press Council from what I can fathom. Voluntary to join with statutory advantages in membership it does begin to resemble the Press Council. This is not an entirely bad thing because it preserves the essence of freedom from compulsion, but is not entirely benign either as it seeks to establish a pecking order which will freeze out the minnows (eg. restrict NZ On Air and government funding to members only).

Report: Recommendations:

A new converged standards body

A news media standards body (the News Media Standards Authority or NMSA) should be established to enforce standards across all publishers of news, including linear and non-linear broadcasters, web-based publishers and the print media.

The NMSA should assume the functions of the Press Council, the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) and the Online Media Standards Authority (OMSA) with respect to news and current affairs.
“News” should be interpreted broadly to include news, current affairs, news commentary and content which purports to provide the public with a factual account and involves real people.


Membership of the NMSA should be available to any person or entity (whether within New Zealand or elsewhere) that meets the following 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; and publication is regular and not occasional.

The following entities should not be considered to be carrying out an activity that meets the criteria set out in R4: Online Content Infrastructure Platforms (OCIPs); The Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives.



Membership of the NMSA should be voluntary. Any person or entity that the NMSA determines to be eligible for membership shall become a member by entering into a contract with the NMSA.

Contracts between the NMSA and its members should include: the complaints process by which the members will be bound; the powers of the NMSA, with members being bound to comply with the exercise of any such powers; the annual financial contribution to be paid by each member to the NMSA; the obligation on members to regularly publicise the NMSA’s code of practice or statement of principles, the NMSA’s complaints process and their own complaints handling process.
Contracts between the NMSA and its members should have a term of at least five years and should allow only limited rights for the member to terminate the contract before its expiry such as insolvency or corporate merger. In its discretion the NMSA should be able to enter into membership contracts for shorter terms with individuals.

The prescriptions the Commission have invented are suited to the big media companies - although the inability of the Authority to set financial penalties for a breach of the code will be most useful to every member. I expect the mainstream media organisations will cautiously welcome the move as the NMSA will be New Mob Same Arseholes. The rest of us will just remain cautious.

UPDATE 27/03/2013 12:15PM:
A good discussion of the faults at the Standard:
It’s a bit sad, really. It’s clearly been written by a group of old white men with no real idea now modern media works.
They want to make you pay to join a ‘voluntary’ privately-owned organisation, which will be the gatekeeper for who gets the news media’s legal rights.
Don’t have money to pay? You don’t get those legal rights. Don’t want to pay? You don’t get those legal rights. Don’t meet this private, unaccountable organisations’ rules? You don’t get those legal rights.
The Law Commission’s genius idea is to let some private organisation staffed by God knows who choose which news organisations have news media rights and which don’t. It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve heard this year.
Next, the practical side. They basically want to extend the existing press complaints system, joke that it is, to online media. Bringing a complaints process to the blogs would be an unworkable farce.

The Law Commission can't join the dots between a code and a contract and this committee because it is so artificial. Whose code? Do all the members vote on the code? Who sets the fee?  The sorts of ideas and forces they try to meld are irreconcilable in the real world.


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