Cyber-bullying target in New Zealand crackdown

But it is not the New Zealand Press Council that is the target. Neither is the focus on the commission’s proposed new super regulator across print, broadcasting and the web.

It is cyber-bullying that is concerning Justice Minister Judith Collins and also those dealing with the country’s disturbingly high rate of youth suicide.

The commission has proposed a crackdown on inciting suicide on the internet, publication of intimate photographs without permission and malicious impersonation.

It recommends establishing an internet overseer with powers to fine, order apologies or close internet accounts of offenders.

The commission’s final recommendations were due by the end of the year but those around cyber-bullying will now be fast tracked.

The Chief Coroner, Judge Neil MacLean, has backed the proposed law changes, saying bullying by text messaging or social media was contributing to youth suicide.

The concerns also reflect frustrations with international internet giants like Facebook and Google that become faceless when attempts at redress are made over offensive material.

Judith Collins

Media in her sights. . . New Zealand Justice Minister Judith Collins is targeting companies who publish photos without permission that have been sourced from the internet. PHOTO: Maarten Holl, Dominion Post

Similar concerns are being shown in Australia.

In response, a cross section of competing broadcasters – including Radio New Zealand, TVNZ, Mediaworks (TV3) and Sky – have indicated they would be prepared to work together to create an Online Media Standards Authority to regulate the presently unregulated news and current affairs that is published solely online.

Given the broadcasters’ move, Fairfax has backed off a proposal to establish a self-regulating News Media Council that would regulate all news content.

Fairfax NZ chief executive Allen Williams said that the proposal was driven by a belief that publishers, broadcasters and new media players should seize the initiative to establish an effective, efficient and comprehensive complaints and standards body that would close the gaps identified by the Law Commission with a one-stop regulatory body free of State interference.

“Fairfax, however, remains committed to the concept of a self-regulating complaints body that covers all platforms and will continue to look for ways to work with our news industry partners to progress that thinking,” he said.

The Australian Catholic University’s Professor Sheryl Hemphill says we should be teaching proper internet usage from an early age.

“When we send our kids out into the streets to play and walk to school, we teach them how to cross the road and not to talk to strangers, yet we are not giving them the same advice on how to be safe in cyberspace,” said Prof Hemphill, who is due to present findings of a 10-year study on bullying to a national conference this month.

Meanwhile mainstream media have been addressing a separate reference term posed by the NZ Law Commission.

That is: whether, and to what extent, the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Standards Authority and/or the Press Council should be extended to cover currently unregulated news media and, if so, what legislative changes would be required to achieve this end?

Tim Pankhurst is CEO of the New Zealand Newspaper Publishers’ Association

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