Media and online content regulation

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The Media Content Regulatory Review

About the Media content review

A comprehensive review of media content regulation in New Zealand was announced by Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon Jan Tinetti, on 8 June 2021. The review is managed by the Department of Internal Affairs, with support from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 

The review aims to create a new modern, flexible and coherent regulatory framework to mitigate the harmful impacts of media 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 media content?

Media 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 media 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 media 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. As a result, it addresses harm in a shrinking proportion of the media content consumed by New Zealanders and provides little protection at all for digital media types which pose the greatest risk for harmful content.

The increase in the potential for New Zealanders to be exposed to harmful content is compounded by the complexity of the 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 regulations 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. This engagement phase will be narrow and be made up of invited key stakeholders, which will contribute to a well-rounded understanding of current regulatory settings and, as a collective, will represent diverse interests in the review.   
  • Public consultation will take place in mid-2022.

About the current media content regulatory system

New Zealand’s current media 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 media content regulatory system seeks to prevent harm from exposure to damaging or illegal media 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 agreeing to the Review and the high-level principles for the Reviews outcomes will be released shortly.

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