Media: Information freeze on 2degrees deal

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National Business Review is aiming to re-post an online article about a deal between Vodafone and the new mobile operator 2degrees.

That is despite the Commerce Commission demanding it be pulled on Wednesday night. The question is whether the commission can use its powers to prevent media from publishing information that did not come from official sources.

NBR business editor Duncan Bridgeman said yesterday that the paper was talking to lawyers after the order from the commission under section 100 of the Commerce Act.

"We think that we should be able to put it back up [on the website] - there is a public interest argument," said Bridgeman.

Other media have been banned from republishing the material included in the article by technology writer Chris Keall.

The commission's actions and the lack of details have surprised many in the media.

Under a little-known provision it is claiming the ability to ban publication about information on the inner-workings of a telco deal.

Information on the deal was lodged with the commission subject to a confidentiality order between the parties -but the order is also imposed on others, including media.

The confidentiality orders are to guarantee that commercial information can be shared with the commission without fear that it is released to the wider public. The ability to intervene - part of many draconian powers available to the regulator - is spelt out clearly enough.

One question will be whether the commission can shut down an entire subject without proof of where media obtained the information.

"That is one of the things that we are saying and we think that we should be able to get the story online again," said Bridgeman.

Yesterday Fairfax business newspaper the Independent was published with its own story about the Vodafone-2degrees arrangement.

Editor Fiona Rotherham said the paper was advised by the commission on Wednesday after it had been sent to press. She had not published the story online.

CARTE BLANCHE

One aspect of the ban is that it gives extraordinary cachet to a respectable, but relatively uncontroversial, news story about the arcane world of phone industry termination charges. Inside the telco world the story will now become a must-see item.

A legal source doubts there are grounds to successfully challenge the commission's action.

The Commerce Act provides that: "No proceedings, civil or criminal, shall lie against the commission for anything it may do or fail to do in the course of the exercise or intended exercise of its functions, unless it is shown that the commission acted without reasonable care or in bad faith. Under s.98 - 98H of the Commerce Act, including the ability to use reasonable force to gain entry and "break open any article or thing" .

In other words they can arrive at 5pm on a Friday with a search warrant, a team of people and jemmy bars to get into filing cabinets, said the legal source.

DOWN COUNTRY

Country Channel is changing its programming to boost advertising revenue. Chief executive Chris Gedye said the changes nine months after launch were needed to increase viewer numbers and advertising interest. Country Channel was looking at easy-to-update information. He declined to say how many people were subscribing to the Sky premium channel, which costs $14.50 month.

The company had also made changes to its production arrangements and was doing some internally, Gedye said. It is understood there had been discussions about drawing extra equity into the company. The Arts Channel, which is also a premium channel on Sky, was sold to Sky last year as owners battled in a difficult market.

At $14.50 a month, Country Channel is more expensive than Sky's movies or sports packages, but it is aimed at farmers - most of whom would be able to write-off about one third in tax.

'CYBER-BULLIES'

Sky Television chief executive John Fellet says he is not concerned about websites that include virulent attacks against Sky sports coverage and put the blame squarely on him.

He describes the site, which looks at the resources Sky puts into its high-definition broadcasts for some sports events, as cyber-bullying.

Anti-media sites are common enough - there is even one devoted to this paper - but www.johnfellet.com does have an edge to it.

I'd be happy to have a chat to organisers about gripes - under its previous satellite arrangements Sky was sometimes mean with bandwidth. But aspects of this anonymous site do raise questions.

According to a poll, 91.9 per cent of respondents think that the digital video recorder MySky is not good value for money. Word of mouth suggest that all DVRs, including MySky and MyFreeview, are popular.

ON FILM

Arts Minister Chris Finlayson yesterday appointed writer Witi Ihimaera to the New Zealand Film Commission as he looks at new ways to run the funding body. The intellectual and creative set will welcome the writer's appointment to the commission which allocates much of the taxpayer funding for New Zealand movies. Ihimaera has been on the outskirts of film production, most notably with the film Whale Rider based on his book, but his expertise is as a writer rather than as a film-maker.

It is not clear how the changes will fit with the Government review of the commission by Peter Jackson and David Court. Jackson has been critical that the commission focused on funding producers, rather than the creative talents.

Insiders say Ihimaera and Finlayson's other recent appointments are part of a push to ensure the board is focused on strategic decisions and away from potential conflicts of interest in funding projects in New Zealand's small, close-knit creative community that seems concentrated around Wellington.

THE RIGHT PEOPLE

Finlayson is a lawyer, a former chairman of Creative New Zealand and is steeped in the Wellington arts scene. He is reputedly a smart man and aware of the long-running divide between Auckland and Wellington. There will be a lot of interest in the people he appoints to roles associated with his portfolios - in the arts, justice and Treaty negotiations.

Another appointee is Christchurch merchant banker Rhiannon Evans who has Ngai Tahu ties and who was appointed with Charles Finney and new chairwoman Patsy Reddy.

About to leave after a long stint is deputy chairman Bill Birnie, an Aucklander with a background in business. Finlayson is apparently ensuring that another Aucklander will take his place. Tainui Stephens, the third board member with a Maori background and a consultant on Maori matters, is also stepping down from the board.

CULTURAL CAPITAL

Reddy is a former director of Telecom and SkyCity Entertainment through some of their most difficult days and is active around the Wellington creative set. She is also the partner of Film Fund head and former Film Commission chairman, the newly-titled Wellington lawyer Sir David Gascoigne.

Yesterday, in his role as Attorney-General, Finlayson announced he had appointed Gascoigne to the role of Judicial Conduct Commissioner, dealing with complaints against judges. A spokesman for Finlayson confirmed that the minister was a friend of Reddy and that they would have come in contact taking part in the cultural life of the capital.

- NZ Herald

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