Media and online content regulation

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The Content Regulatory System Review

About the Content Regulatory System Review

A comprehensive review of content regulation in New Zealand was announced by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon Jan Tinetti, on 10 June 2021 (Beehive website). The review is managed by the Department of Internal Affairs, with support from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 

The review aims to design and create a new modern, flexible and coherent regulatory framework to mitigate the harmful impacts of content, regardless of how it is delivered.

The framework will still need to protect and enhance important democratic freedoms, including freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

What is content?

Content is any communicated material (for example video, audio, images and text) that is publicly available, regardless of how it is communicated.

What is harmful content?

There is a spectrum of harmful content that New Zealanders are exposed to, ranging from adult content that children can access to violent extremist content and child sexual exploitation material. 

Why do we need this review?

The ongoing evolution of digital media has resulted in significant and growing potential for New Zealanders to be exposed to harmful content. This was made evident by the livestreaming and subsequent uploading of the Christchurch terror attack video.

Our existing regulatory system was designed around a traditional idea of ‘analogue publication’ such as books, magazines and free-to-air TV, and does not have the flexibility to respond to many digital media types, including content made available online. As a result, the current system addresses harm for a shrinking proportion of the content consumed by New Zealanders and provides little to no protection at all for digital media types that pose the greatest risk for our communities.

The increase in the potential for New Zealanders to be exposed to harmful content is compounded by the complexity of the current regulatory system. Different rules apply for content hosted across media channels. This increases difficulty for New Zealanders when deciding what content is appropriate for them and their children and creates confusion on where to report harmful content. 

There is also an uneven playing field for media providers as some types of media are subject to complicated regulatory requirements and some to no regulation at all.

Consultation

Consultation will be an inclusive process, where there is opportunity for stakeholders and the public to provide input and help shape a new regulatory system.

Consultation will take place in two stages.

  • Targeted stakeholder engagement will take place in mid- to late-2021 and will include engaging with specific stakeholders to inform proposals for public consultation. Targeted engagement is necessary as it will contribute to a well-rounded understanding of current regulatory settings and issues, and allow us to inform and frame any proposals for wider consultation.  
  • Public consultation will take place in early 2022 and timelines  may change subject to feedback and progress in phases of the review.

About the current content regulatory system

New Zealand’s current content regulatory system is made up of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, the Broadcasting Act 1989 and voluntary self-regulation (including the New Zealand Media Council and Advertising Standards Authority). The Office of Film and Literature Classification and the Broadcasting Standards Authority are statutory regulators under their respective regimes. 

New Zealand’s content regulatory system seeks to prevent harm from exposure to damaging or illegal content. It does this through a combination of classifications and ratings to provide consumer information, and standards to reflect community values. These tools are designed to prevent harm from people viewing unwanted or unsuitable content, while protecting freedom of expression. 

The Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 is administrated by the Department and was designed to provide a framework for classifying films, videos, and publications, and to clearly label and in some cases restrict the availability of harmful content. It is most familiar to the public from labels on films in cinemas and on DVD cases. This Act allowed the Christchurch terrorist attack video to be classified as objectionable, making it illegal to hold and distribute. 

The Broadcasting Act 1989 is administrated by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. It was designed to provide a framework that regulates content traditionally broadcast on radio and free-to-air and pay television. It also covers certain content that is live-streamed through the internet. For example, the legislation covers the 6pm news when viewed as a television broadcast or viewed through the Television New Zealand website, but not when it is access through an on-demand service.

You can contact the Department for further information on the review at mediacontentreviewNZ@dia.govt.nz

Review documents

The Cabinet paper, its associated minutes and supporting information briefings to initiate the Content Regulatory System Review have been released, below:

Note, that the briefing The Department’s recommended approach to a review of the content regulatory system reflects the Department’s independent early thinking and that there are no plans for two separate reviews.

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