By Dickens, what a year it has been

Every time I sit down to review the past year, I am drawn to the words of a former reporter on London’s Morning Chronicle.

No matter what the year, the opening lines to one of his better-known pieces of writing seems to resonate: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

And, by Dickens, that sums up the past 12 months.

The New Zealand media’s year has been, to put it far less eloquently than the author of A Tale of Two Cities, one of ups and downs. Of course, media cannot be held entirely responsible for those oscillations. In many respects they are simply mirroring or reacting to what is happening more widely in society and on the global stage. And that world is full of paradoxes – some of the best rises out of the worst. Continue reading “By Dickens, what a year it has been”

The art of turning good news into a train wreck

This is an on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand commentary.

On the one hand, legislation forcing ‘big tech’ to pay for the news they appropriate from New Zealand media is welcome. On the other hand, fence-sitting for the past two years robbed the Ardern Government of an opportunity to give the move true international impact.

The government has had a soft approach to the social media platforms and search engines (save for the Christchurch Call on harmful content) because it relies heavily on them for direct contact with the electorate. The Prime Minister has 1.9 million Facebook followers and 1.7 million on Instagram. She may wish to suggest her 800,000 Twitter followers follow her elsewhere as Elon Musk turns it into a swamp.

The government could – and should – have collaborated with its Australian counterpart at the beginning of last year to pass identical legislation on both sides of the Tasman forcing ‘big tech’ to negotiate deals or face compulsory arbitration. Such a united front would have sent a stronger message to Meta, Alphabet et al than this country could do alone. It would also reinforce a determination to take an international approach to regulating those who believe they are laws unto themselves. Continue reading “The art of turning good news into a train wreck”

Hard call (but the right call) on hate speech

There has been understandable anger and frustration at the announcement that harm provisions in the Human Rights Act will only be extended to religious communities. However, New Zealand will be a better place if the aggrieved can be a little more patient.

Yes, the LGBT+ community, women, the disabled and other ‘targets’ have already waited a long time for the protection that is their fundamental right. I understand why they have launched a petition. Their hopes of legislative change had been boosted by recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Christchurch Mosque Attacks related to social cohesion, and by the Department of Internal Affairs’ Content Regulatory Review.

Those hopes were dimmed by Justice Minister Kiri Allen’s announcement, but not dashed. She also announced that the Law Commission has been asked to undertake “an independent and thorough first principles review of legal responses to hate-motivated offending, and of speech that expresses hostility towards, or contempt of, people who share a common characteristic” (the italics are mine).

One might question why the Law Commission is to do another review when the Department of Internal Affairs review is already canvassing overseas regulation of harmful material. I think that, while there will be overlap, the Law Commission will concentrate on the role of the legal system in achieving a balance of rights: Toleration versus free speech. Continue reading “Hard call (but the right call) on hate speech”