Media super-regulator bad idea | The Jackal

26 Mar 2013

Media super-regulator bad idea

Today, the Law Commission released The New Media Meets ‘New Media’: Rights, Responsibilities and Regulation in the Digital Age report (PDF). It's an extensive report, but what I found most interesting was this:

We conclude that it is not in the public interest to impose statutory regulation on the New Zealand news media. Instead, in line with the principles outlined above, we believe accountability to an external standards body should be entirely voluntary.  However … membership of our proposed new body will bring with it advantages which in our view will be of considerable value to those willing to be subject to its jurisdiction.

In my opinion, effective self-regulation through a voluntary basis will not work. This is because media outlets are more often than not private enterprises, which are usually regulated by self interest and not by any real concern for society.

In order to ensure that private businesses do not publish material that's detrimental to the public interest, there must be statutory oversight through various regulations to ensure legal measures can be imposed on media outlets when they breach publication laws.

In this regard, the proposed system will likely remove the ability of the regulating body to administer any punishment to private publishing firms (without costly legal proceedings), with a lack of government funding being the only detrimental impact for them.

It appears, that under these recommendations, private businesses with their own capital will be able to publish whatever material they like with relative impunity.

We do not recommend, however, any monetary sanctions, either fines or compensation.

Which fits nicely into Nationals deregulation agenda that has caused so many disastrous results in many other industries. Personally I think that fines should be increased and imposed more frequently... After all, money talks.

Like the Leveson and Finkelstein Inquiries, we recognise that in this dynamic new publishing environment there remains an overriding public interest in ensuring the survival of a robust news media, unfettered by political interference.

There's a big difference between ensuring there's no political interference and removing statutory regulation, which the Law Commission also recommends.

Although the Law Commission is making the right noises about reducing the amount of crony appointments that have plagued regulatory bodies since National came to power, removing legal redress on both a public and political level is not appropriate. Instead, statutory regulations should be increased and broadened to deter disinformation in all its guises.

We also recognise though that the majority of individuals using digital communication technologies, including many bloggers, will choose to sit outside our proposed new complaints body and will not be covered by its standards.

Which would include all those promoting disinformation ie those that need the most censuring.

However, they will be subject to the law of New Zealand and also the various measures we have recommended in our earlier Ministerial Briefing Paper to combat communication harms.

Despite many breaches of the law, how often are bloggers subject to any legal measures? Basically the Law Commission is putting blogger's in the too hard basket and proposing that large private media firms who don't sign up to the voluntary obligations should be at an advantage to publish whatever propaganda they like.

Today, National also reported:

“However, many of the 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,” Ms Collins says.

Judith Collins says that like it's a bad thing... In fact the liberation of the press is one of the best things to occur for humanity in recent history. No longer do governments or corporations solely control the news and its ability to influence the public's decision-making process.

Whether the Law Commissions recommendations will help that process of liberation is yet to be seen, but considering who's overseeing such changes, I have serious doubts.