Media regulation uncertainty

In the hurly burly of the runup to the eventual formation of the government last week, the Broadcasting Standards Authority’s annual report received scant attention in the media.

In its report to the end of June, the BSA makes it clear it is impatient for change to the 34-year-old legislation which governs it because it does not match the reality of modern broadcasting.

The authority’s chief executive Stacey Wood said as audiences moved at pace from traditional broadcasting to online and digital platforms, the increasingly obsolete legislation was making achieving its mission more difficult.

It lists its vision on the X platform (formerly Twitter) as freedom in broadcasting without harm.

The BSA is an independent crown entity set up to oversee broadcasting standards. It determines complaints, oversees and develops broadcasting standards and also has an educative role.

However, its purview is restricted to programmes broadcast on television or radio and, as Ms Wood says, increasingly harm is occurring in unregulated spaces where the authority and other regulators have no power.

Under the Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill, which passed its first reading in the House in August, the BSA would have a new role as the independent regulator overseeing the bargaining environment set up by the Bill and monitor compliance.

The Bill sought to create conditions for fair bargaining and negotiation between New Zealand news media organisations and digital platforms (such as search engines or social media outlets) regarding the terms under which they could use New Zealand-produced news content.

Its aim was to support a free and independent news media industry by providing a way for news producers to be viable in a digital marketplace.

The preamble to the Bill pointed out that attempts by media outlets to bargain for the value of their news content with digital platforms were often unsuccessful.

The BSA is impatient for change to the 34-year-old legislation which governs it because it does...
The BSA is impatient for change to the 34-year-old legislation which governs it because it does not match the reality of modern broadcasting. Photo: ODT files
It said it was not desirable for the government to continue funding the news media directly because that risked eroding public trust in the media, but some intervention was necessary to create an even playing field for the industry and support the ongoing production of New Zealand news content.

Consultation on the Bill which had been referred to the Economic Development Science and Innovation select committee closed at the beginning of this month, but it seems unlikely the Bill will get any further. National and Act New Zealand opposed it in the House.

Whether the Safer Online Services and Media Platforms review will share the same fate remains to be seen.

Mid-year the Department of Internal Affairs released a discussion document for consultation on proposals which would make social media subject to regulation similar to traditional media outlets.

Its view was that the existing protection from harmful content including the promotion of terrorism and violent extremism was not strong enough.

It was difficult for people with concerns to know which of five complaint bodies to go to, there were gaps in the coverage of these bodies, and the system was too slow and reactive rather than proactive.

Under the proposed changes there would be enforceable codes of practice, developed by sector or industry organisations, with a new independent regulator responsible for approving them and ensuring platforms’ compliance.

Creating safer platforms while preserving essential rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the benefits of media platforms is the fine balancing act the DIA was aiming to achieve with its proposals.

It is a complex area which deserves to be properly considered, whether you are on the side of those who think these proposals are a threat to freedom of expression and an overreach, long overdue, or something in between.

Accordingly, the reporting back of the responses to the discussion document, which had been expected before the end of the year, should not be ignored by the new government and all of these issues relegated to the too-hard basket.