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Commission calls for media watchdog for the cyber age

The Law Commission calls for a single independent regulator of all news media.

New Zealand needs a single regulator of all news media "independent of both government and the news industry”.

That's one of the proposals in the Law Commission’s latest issue paper News Media Meets New Media, which outlines standards and accountabilities it believes should apply to the news media and citizen publishers in the digital age.

This regulator would govern all speech and communication, irrespective of the medium or who is communicating.

Currently, newspapers and other print media use the Press Council as a regulatory body to hear complaints over the accuracy and fairness of cover.

However, there is a gap in the legislation for the regulation of photos, text, video and audio material which is published on the internet. The proposed new authority would encompass both print and online media.

The report considers problems emerging within the web environment, including issues like cyber-bullying, harassment and defamation in social media.

It asks if the law can be adapted to the new publishing environment and whether the courts are the best forum for resolving these sorts of disputes between free speech and rights to privacy and reputation.

Under its proposal news media could only continue to enjoy privileges such as access to closed court proceedings and exemptions from a raft of legislation including the Privacy and Defamation Acts if they submitted to the new body.

The proposal includes two options for membership; voluntary and compulsory. But it is believed that major news outlets would join in order to maintain their legal standing as news media and to keep the associated privileges.

Under the compulsory option, publishers who produce news as a business or commercial activity and those providing broad or general news services to a wide audience would be required to join.

Bloggers could voluntarily join under both options and would therefore qualify for news media privileges, which they are generally denied at present.

The public and interested parties have until March 12 to make submissions on the commission's proposals.