Chapter 4 - What distinguishes the news media and why it matters


The first question we have been asked to consider as part of this review is how to define “news media” for the purposes of the law. From a public policy perspective this requires us to consider whether, and in what circumstances, it may be in the public interest to:

  • extend the legal privileges and exemptions outlined in the previous chapter, which currently apply to traditional news media to certain categories of web publishers; and
  • require this category of web publishers to be held accountable, via some sort of regulatory regime, to the types of journalistic standards that have traditionally applied to news media.

In the preceding chapter we outlined the range of statutory exemptions and privileges available to the news media and highlighted the problem the law now faces in drawing the boundaries as to who and what constitutes “news media.” In order to address this question we need to examine the fundamental principles which underpin the news media’s special legal status.

Having identified these public interest rationales for treating the news media as a special class of publisher, we then turn to the emerging web publishers who are undertaking “news activities” but who are not currently subject to the codes of ethics and systems of accountability which apply to traditional news media.

With respect to these publishers we ask two questions:

  • is there a public interest in extending the news media’s legal status and system of standards and accountabilities to a broader class of publisher?
  • if so, what types of publishing activities on the web might be included and in what contexts?

We begin by briefly traversing the evolution of the modern “news media”, its role in a democratic society and the rationale behind the system of special “rights” and “responsibilities” traditionally applied to news media organisations.