< July 2023 newsletter

Powerful regulator proposed for online services, social media platforms

Consultation is now open on a proposed approach to regulating online services and media platforms in New Zealand. You can read more about the background to this work on the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) website HERE, which includes links to the discussion document and supporting information.

The Safer Online Services and Media Platforms discussion document places a lot of focus on the regulation of social media and clamping down on high-risk content (including harmful content to children and terrorism). However, concerns have been raised by commentators regarding the potential impact on freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Freedom of expression remains key to a successful democracy, making it crucial that any regulatory change strikes the right balance between safeguarding public safety and protecting these fundamental rights.

Radio NZ’s Paul Thompson is quoted in the NZ Herald as saying that news media are already well regulated. “At the highest level, these proposals are predicated on a definition of ‘harm’ and ‘minimisation’. The fundamental issue with the definition of harm is that it is inherently a subjective assessment, whereas any standards regime or code of practice needs an objective set of criteria against which any content can be evaluated”.

Subjective assessments would include the definition of “safety standards”. In these days where offense is so quickly taken and as a result people feel “unsafe” when they hear or see something they don’t like, a critical issue will be to define “harm” and “safety”.

Lack of democratic accountability

Another major concern is the proposal to establish of a high-powered independent regulator. This new entity would be responsible for approving the codes of practice and making sure platforms complied with them. The consultation document says the new regulator would have “no powers over the editorial decisions of media platforms” but it would have ultimate power to rule on complaint appeals. It would also have takedown powers and it could issue penalties for “serious failures of compliance”. The powers that the new regulator may have will be significantly wider than those held by the Chief Censor and the Broadcasting Standards Authority. 

The discussion document says the Government would appoint the regulator’s board but that the new body would be “fully independent of ministers”. It says the new regulator’s final structure, including “detailed design of governance and oversight arrangements” as well as government funding would be decided once its functions and roles were confirmed.

Jonathan Ayling CEO, of the Free Speech Union, says that a Code drafted away from Parliament and political accountability is a censor’s greatest dream and will be weaponised to suppress unpopular or disliked perspectives and opinions.

There would also be a lack of democratic accountability for what is considered 'harmful' or 'safe'. As the Free Speech Union states “the Government’s internet Tzar won’t be democratically elected or have any accountability to the public”, going on to explain: 

“Proposed reform to online censorship would see a Super-Regulator established which would control what you're allowed to say online; on your social media, in podcasts, or on blogs. This Regulator would make the rules, but without input from the public, and without Parliamentary oversight. There is no democratic accountability in this process, where Kiwi citizens get to have their voices heard, and if they’re not listened to, they can vote the politicians out”. 

Alarm bells are also ringing as regards to the inclusion of the recommendation of a big cultural competency overhaul, with a “significant” Māori presence on the new regulator’s board, including ensuring that complaint processes “are respectful of, and restore mana between parties through tailored remediation processes that are mindful of cultural values”.

The discussion document says it is important the new regulatory framework “reflects New Zealand’s unique cultural and social perspectives, and that it is grounded in Te Tiriti o Waitangi”.

“The new regulatory framework would aim to achieve outcomes that reflect Māori perspectives, needs, and aspirations,” according to the document.

“We expect the legislation to provide for rangatiratanga by requiring a significant Māori presence on the Board of the regulator.

As Dr Muriel Newman at NZCPR writes in ‘Media Freedom to be Muzzled’

“Since Māori will be in a position to significantly influence Labour’s new media regulator, it doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that commentary regarded as critical of their agenda - such as challenging their Treaty ‘partnership’ myth, co-governance and He Puapua - will be considered ‘unsafe’ and ‘harmful’ hate speech and targeted for heavy regulation”.

Public Consultation: Safer Online Services and Media Platforms

We have until Monday July 31 to submit on this consultation. The Executive Summary and Factsheet cover the main aspects of the proposals.

For information on how to make a submission, follow this: Safer Online Services and Media Platforms Consultation

Your feedback on the proposed approach will shape the next stage of this work.

If you have any questions, email DIA at [email protected]

You can subscribe to their mailing list to receive updates on this work’s. Subscribe here

DIA are hosting a couple of online information sessions during July “to give people the opportunity to ask us questions about the proposals. This would be helpful for anyone that wants to clarify parts of the proposals before submitting feedback.”

You can register to attend an information session through the links below.

  • Saturday 8 July 2023, 3:30 PM                                Register here
  • Thursday 20 July 2023, 7:00 PM                              Register here

Make a submission in less than 5 minutes!

The Free Speech Union has launched a campaign to push back against this major threat to free speech. You can read about this HERE.

FSU has:

- launched a website that will enable you to write unique submissions in less than 5 minutes; https://www.freespeechsubmission.com

- and a petition that calls on each political party to refuse to adopt the proposals. https://www.fsu.nz/say_no_to_online_regulator


DIA: Safer Online Services and Media Platforms – Executive Summary

DIA: Safer Online Services and Media Platforms – Factsheet

Media coverage

STUFF Jonathan Ayling opinion: Media regulation plan - a censor's greatest dream

TE AO MĀORI NEWSNew plan for internet safety released

NZ HERALD: Media regulation: New super-power government body set to rule over news and social media content; film, gaming classification


A Halfling’s View: Safer Online Services and Media Platforms - A First Impression

Go back to the July 2023 newsletter


Willie Jackson’s new media empire causes concern

More than 800 submissions have been received on the Government’s Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media Bill, a law that will merge TVNZ and RNZ under a new parent group. A number of media executives, including from TVNZ and RNZ, are expressing concerns about the lack of protection for editorial independence of the proposed new public media entity - that the bill would give the Government far greater control over public media than it has at the moment. Continue reading

Fears raised about government control of new public media entity

Independent media, free of government influence, is vital to a well-functioning democracy. The media must be able to hold government officials accountable, raise controversial issues without fear of reprisal, and include a diversity of voices and opinions, not just those that politicians want covered. However, the legislation to merge RNZ and TVNZ - the Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media Bill - is raising fears that our new public media entity - ‘Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media’ will result in opportunities for political interference. Continue reading

The corruption of the mainstream media

Most mainstream news organisations are making hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars a year, off the new Public Interest Journalism Fund. The Public Interest Journalism Fund is a $55m government grant handed out to news media organisations by the Labour government, via NZ On Air.  Continue reading

Stuff’s ‘brave new era’ – goodbye to independence and objectivity

The backbone of any democracy is an independent, objective, and responsible media. But the Stuff media organisation is eschewing this value system to undertake a ‘reset’. This includes a new company charter with Te Tiriti o Waitangi embedded at its core. Continue reading