Summary and preliminary proposals

Our terms of reference

1. In October 2010 the Law Commission was asked to review the adequacy of the regulatory environment in which New Zealand’s news media is operating in the digital era.

2. In conducting this review we were asked to deal explicitly with the following questions:

  • how to define “news media” for the purposes of the law;
  • whether, and to what extent, the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Standards Authority and/or the Press Council should be extended to cover currently unregulated news media and, if so, what legislative changes would be required to achieve this end; and
  • whether the existing criminal and civil remedies for wrongs such as defamation, harassment, breach of confidence and privacy are effective in the new media environment and, if not, whether alternative remedies may be available.

3. This Issues Paper unpacks the policy and legal questions underlying these questions and puts forward for public consultation and submission a number of preliminary proposals for legal and regulatory reform.

4. Although on the face of it narrow in scope, this paper deals with issues of fundamental importance to all New Zealanders, including the future of the news media and the rights and responsibilities attached to the exercise of free speech in the digital era.

5. The paper is divided into two parts. In Part 1, which comprises chapters 1 – 6, we address the first two questions posed in our terms of reference. These deal with the special type of publishers known as the “news media” and the laws and regulatory environment in which they operate. In Part 2, comprising chapters 7-8, we deal with the much broader issue of citizens exercising their speech rights in the digital environment and ask whether the current legal remedies for speech abuses are adequate.