Govt wrestles with law, ethics for on-line media

By Derek Cheng

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

The Government is looking into regulating bloggers, Twitter, Facebook and other internet-based publishing to protect the integrity of the justice system.

But bloggers warn it is very difficult to draw a line between what should and should not be published over the internet, and regulation can always be sidestepped by setting up a site overseas.

Television, radio and newspapers reports about criminal trials or other aspects of the justice system are regulated by standards of balance, truth and fairness.

But "new media", as Justice Minister Simon Power termed them, are not regulated beyond the requirements of the law.

"It's a bit of a Wild West in cyberspace at the moment, because bloggers and online publishers are not subject to any form of regulation or professional or ethical standards," Mr Power said.

"Issues I'm concerned about include how trials can be prejudiced by information posted on websites and seen by jurors, real-time online streaming of court cases, breaches of court suppression orders, and republication of a libel."

He said there should be one set of rules for all news media, and the review - by the Law Commission - would look at extending the powers of the Broadcasting Standards Authority and/or the Press Council to cover new media.

Kiwiblogger and National Party member David Farrar welcomed the review, but said it was difficult to regulate what people said over the internet.

"Good luck to the Government if it wants to impose ethical standards for what people want to say on the internet."

Other issues included whether regulation should cover high-profile blogs but not apply to the average tweet on Twitter.

Mr Farrar said the law applied to all forms of publishing - blogger Cameron Slater has been convicted for breaching name suppression orders - and the internet could self-regulate.

"If you tell a lie you can be exposed as a liar, if you defame someone you can be sued for defamation," he said.

"You get pounced on within minutes if you have something wrong.

"The gap between traditional media and new media isn't what the minister makes it out to be."

Even if the Government imposed regulation on internet users, there was nothing to stop someone setting up a site from overseas.

"Then there's nothing current or future law could do unless they want China-style internet filters," Mr Farrar said.

He suggested a voluntary opt-in to the Press Council for online publishers.

The public will be able to have its say when the Law Commission releases an issues paper by December next year.

ETHICAL PROBLEM
* Media are regulated by standards of ethical reporting, such as being balanced and fair.
* Bloggers, tweeters and other internet users are not regulated beyond the law, and the Government is concerned about the adverse effect this could have on the justice system.

- NZ Herald

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