Chapter 2 - Online media in New Zealand

Introduction

The first question posed in our terms of reference is whether it is possible to define ‘news media’ for the purposes of the law? As discussed in the introductory chapter, the digital era is characterised by the ubiquity of publishers using a variety of channels or platforms to communicate with potentially very large audiences.

As a result of this proliferation of publishers the mainstream media has lost its monopoly on the generation and dissemination of news. This is not to imply that the internet has fostered a substantial growth in the number of organisations dedicated to gathering and producing news. Rather it has allowed a much broader range of individuals and groups to participate in an activity formerly reserved for those attached to professional news organisations.

In some instances that participation closely mirrors that of the mainstream media. Sites such as the Korean-based OhmyNews pioneered citizen journalism, providing a professionally moderated platform via which thousands of individuals could submit daily news items.18 In many other instances though, the generation of news-like content is only one of many different activities users make of a publishing platform. For example, social media sites such as Facebook, although not primarily intended as news channels, are nonetheless increasingly used to publish information which formerly may have taken the form of a “press release” submitted to the mainstream media. Specialised news applications are also being developed for social media like Facebook.

Our aim in this chapter is not to provide a definitive answer to the question “who are the news media?” but rather to provide a descriptive overview of the spectrum of New Zealand publishers who are, in part or whole, engaged in the types of publishing activities which have formerly been associated with the traditional news media. By this we mean the generation, aggregation and dissemination of news and commentary on the gamut of issues commonly referred to as “public affairs.”

Given the vast amount of user-generated content (UGC) online and the speed with which publishers enter and exit the internet, it is not possible to provide a comprehensive picture.

We begin by examining the online presence of the key mainstream media organisations in New Zealand. We then turn to web-only news publishers, including the broad range of individuals and collectives who comprise New Zealand’s blogging community. Finally we turn to social media such as Facebook and Twitter and examine to what extent those publishing on these platforms can be considered news generators.

We are aware of the limitations of positioning different publishers along this spectrum. The porous nature of the web and the ability of users to “link” material means content published in one context is rapidly assimilated into a multiplicity of other contexts. This interconnectivity is a critical feature of the internet and also presents one of the challenges in attempting to establish meaningful boundaries between different types of content producers.

Throughout this discussion we also attempt to draw out the features of web publishing which distinguish it from publishing in the traditional channels – television, radio broadcasting and print. In doing so we foreshadow the issues we will confront when addressing the regulatory gaps in media law and also the question of remedies for harms resulting from web publications.

At the time of writing OhmyNews International had changed its approach to publishing contributed content after a re-appraisal of its role. For details see < www.english.ohmynews.com >.