Online broadcasting 'wild-west' could be tamed, says expert

4:27 pm on 2 April 2018

A media law expert has welcomed the possibility that overseas-based online broadcasters may have to comply with New Zealand regulation.

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Ursula Cheer Photo: RNZ

Yesterday Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran told TVNZ's program Q&A the government may require broadcasters such as Netflix and Facebook to meet New Zealand standards.

Currently New Zealand's broadcasting standards apply to TV and radio, but not online media.

Canterbury University dean of law Ursula Cheer said without any regulation overseas-based broadcasters were operating unchecked.

She said New Zealand needed a complaints body, similar to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, that oversaw online-based content.

"Otherwise you've got the broadcasters who are struggling and they're regulated and it doesn't seem fair that these other forms of delivery just seem to be out there and it seems to be the wild west. Really it's only customer satisfaction that governs what they're able to offer as a service.

Professor Cheer said regulation should be light-handed, but firmly draw a line over what it would deem inappropriate.

"I think mostly the line-drawing will be around content available to children and also issues around violence and sexual content. I think any liberal society such as ours, would find a bottom line that most people would agree on.

She said the government should be able to block content that breached these standards, but had to be careful it did not over censor.

"Being free to do whatever you want, in liberal terms, is always tempered by the harm principle which is that you can do what you like up to the point of where there is harm to others and that's where the state is entitled to intervene."

Professor Cheer said Australia had this policy and it was successful.

"You have to find a process that allows material to be taken down and if the material is not based in the country you've got to find a way of dealing with that. Now in Australia they've just got stuck in and if the material is hosted in Australia then they can issue take-down orders but if not then they look at getting filtering systems put in place."

She said the key action would be setting up a complaints body which could look similar to current content watchdogs.

Labour previously mooted the idea and the existing industry appeared to be keen to take on the challenge, she said.

"All of the existing bodies, like the BSA, the Classification Office and the Press Council all put in submissions saying we can deal with this - we can take over looking at livestreaming for example. But of course another suggestion is that you replace all of those or you make available an overarching regulator that would deal with all of the platforms."

The Broadcasting Minister said she had spoken to Netflix, Amazon and Facebook about the possibility of regulation.