Election dangers at unregulated end of information spectrum

There was a reassuring sense of common purpose in a joint media release this week by the four bodies charged with keeping the next election’s media campaigns honest. So why did I get a feeling it was like a rerun of the League of Nations in the 1930s?

The media release announced a short video described as a consumer guide to complaints processes during the election. The video explained the roles of the Electoral Commission (NZEC), Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA), Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), and New Zealand Media Council (NZMC) in the complaints process. The four bodies also helpfully provided an infographic on who does what.

Each organisation has specific jurisdiction during elections and rules that must be followed. The Electoral Commission has comprehensive rules for political parties, candidates, and third party promoters on everything from hoardings and flyers to how much can be spent on advertising. Both the Advertising Standards Authority and Broadcasting Standards Authority have comprehensive rules, guides, and a stack of past rulings that light their path. The Media Council simply requires election editorial coverage to comply with its 12 principles of good journalism.

The release carried a solemn statement from the four bodies:

Political speech and election related content, which includes campaign material and commentary on advocacy groups, politicians, political parties and their policies, are vital components of the right to freedom of expression and a democratic election process. We are committed to supporting all those who publish or promote election related content to comply with the standards expected within New Zealand, and encourage members of the public who view, read or hear content that concerns them to raise this with us.”

Now, all this is very reassuring and New Zealand does have a good working model for ensuring election advertising and media coverage is above board. Electors have been reasonably well served in past elections and over time a system has developed that allows for fast redress on matters requiring urgent attention.

The League of Nations also had its successes – it managed to ban the use of gas in war – but it was spectacularly ineffective in preventing the Second World War. Continue reading “Election dangers at unregulated end of information spectrum”

Media regulation: Time to shut up and get on with it.

A decade ago this month, the Law Commission produced a fit-for-purpose blueprint for  regulation of New Zealand news media by a single body. The News Media Standards Authority did not happen and today we are no closer to changing oversight that is well past its use-by date.

The commission’s recommendations were set out in a report titled The News Media Meets ‘New Media’: Rights, responsibilities, and regulation in the digital age, produced by a team led by eminent media law expert Professor John Burrows.

The foreword to the report stated it was about how the law should respond to a challenge that had been articulated by then Chief Government Scientist, Sir Peter Gluckman. In an address on the impact of technology on adolescents, Sir Peter had expressed the view that the internet and digital technology have brought about the most profound change in how humans communicate since our species first acquired speech.

One might have thought that his perspective, and the report’s call for fundamental changes to media regulation, would have been an urgent wake-up call. Continue reading “Media regulation: Time to shut up and get on with it.”

Government media strategies: A dating game that may not end well

I am worried.

I am worried that New Zealand’s media ecosystem is about to be adversely affected by Government initiatives that should be closely coordinated but which are each taking their own course.

There may be a grand strategy but, if that is so, the New Zealand public have not seen it.

Instead, we are slowly becoming aware of strands of policy that have different focal points, different timeframes, and different potential impacts. There are cross-currents that mean each of these policies will have consequences for media outside the primary focus.

The situation is made worse by the fact that much of the policy work has dealt with high level concepts that leave the detail until later.

These combined factors are not necessarily a recipe for disaster, but they are certainly from the Unintended Consequences Cookbook. Continue reading “Government media strategies: A dating game that may not end well”

AM Show failed Ashley Bloomfield…and Mike King

The AM Show and its host Duncan Garner failed in their duty last week.

Mental health advocate Mike King made an unacceptable personal attack during the show on Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, calling him “a nasty little man who is killing our kids”.

Garner’s response was: “They’re big claims to make. We’ll give him the right of reply.”

They weren’t “big claims”. They were an extreme attack that could well be found to be defamatory in the unlikely event that Bloomfield took civil action. Continue reading “AM Show failed Ashley Bloomfield…and Mike King”