Online news regulator to go live in July

Online news regulator to go live in July

Major New Zealand TV and radio broadcasters have put a date to the launch of their new self-regulatory body for online current affairs, with the Online Media Standards Authority (OMSA) going live on 1 July.

The new body is similar to the print media's Press Council, handling complaints from the public about current affairs content. As its name suggests, OMSA only focuses on news content from its members that appear online – with traditional broadcasts still under the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

OMSA's Complaints Committee (chaired by retired Court of Appeal judge Bruce Robertson) and Appeals Board is separate from the main organisation. The Complaints Committee has four members of the public and three industry members, while the Appeals Board has two of the former and one of the latter. The two panels' job is to adjudicate over complaints and come up with suitable remedies, instead of financial penalties it deals with corrections and take downs.

OMSA members include TVNZ, MediaWorks, The Radio Network, Radio New Zealand, Maori TV and Sky TV. Its first chair is MediaWorks' legal counsel Clare Bradley, whose role is to represent the media organisations.

She says there's currently a gap in the media regulation landscape which isn't being covered by the BSA.

"[Broadcasters] have long wanted a self-regulating body as the print media and ad industry has," says Bradley.

"The BSA only deals with broadcast and doesn't regulate what goes online. Our members have identified a regulatory gap, along with the Law Commission, and we've chosen to address it ourselves."

In late March, the Law Commission released its media report called 'The News Media meets New Media' which suggests among other things combining the already existing media regulatory bodies into a single entity, in order to simplify the process and make it more understandable for the public and organisations involved. Asked if the creation of OMSA was adding just another body into the confusion, Bradley says the new regulator addresses issues that might otherwise be ignored while comprehensive law changes are made.

"The issue of a single regulator obviously needs greater discussion at an industry level – but it will require legislative change ... which will take time and is at the whim of political agendas. What the broadcast industry has decided will fill the gap the Law Commission identified [in 2010] and fill it immediately while we wait for pan-industry discussions to take place," she says.

Non-traditional and smaller broadcasters (such as video bloggers and regional channels) are able to join OMSA if they prove they are aligned with the organisation's mantra, adds Bradley.