What is ‘news media’? Independent Media Inquiry

The Federal Government’s Independent Media Inquiry published its report today by Mr Ray Finkelstein QC assisted by Professor Matthew Ricketson. It is a massive report and will take some time to work through. This hasn’t stopped Tim from mUmbrella already getting stuck into the report around the issue of what sorts of ‘online media enterprises’ (as the Convergence Review calls them) will be classified as ‘news media’ for the purposes of any posssible regulation.

Tim has a blog post and a news piece about the issue. The news piece is some early analysis, and the blog post raises the example of a blog belonging to one of Tim’s mates. The blog is called Banana Watch and consists of photos of banana peels. The issue is regarding whether or not ‘Banana Watch’ would be subject to any new regulatory body. This is a pertinent question as it raises the issue of a multitude of long tail bloggers (of which I have been one for 8 or so years) becoming part of the regulatory scheme. In both of the posts on mUmbrella, Tim quotes an extract from the report. In the news piece he writes:

On which media would be covered, the Inquiry said: “There are many newsletter publishers and bloggers, although no longer part of the ‘lonely pamphleteer’ tradition, who offer up-to-date reflections on current affairs. Quite a number have a very small audience. There are practical reasons for excluding from the definition of ‘news media’ publishers who do not have a sufficiently large audience. If a publisher distributes more than 3000 copies of print per issue or a news internet site has a minimum of 15 000 hits per annum it should be subject to the jurisdiction of the News Media Council, but not otherwise. These numbers are arbitrary, but a line must be drawn somewhere.”
Finkelstein appears to be using the word “hits” to describe page views. 15000 per annum would equate to just 40 page views a day.

The ‘second change’ Tim quotes above discusses various (outdated) ways of thinking about inclusion as a measure of traffic and looked at this traffic issue alone as a point of contention. The context of this quoted extract in the document is the NZLC definition of ‘news’ to which the rport is suggesting changes (page 295):

For the purposes of the law the “news media” includes any publisher, in any medium, who meets the following criteria:
· a significant proportion of their publishing activities must involve the generation and/or aggregation of news, information and opinion of current value;
· they disseminate this information to a public audience;
· publication must be regular;
· the publisher must be accountable to a code of ethics and a complaints process.

Banana Watch, entertaining? Maybe. But does it belong to “news, information [or]opinion of current value”? In anyway that isn’t purely for amusement, then no.

Point 11.61 (page 294) of the document defines news media: “The news media are those that gather, analyse and disseminate news, often with their own opinions added.”

The first question that needs to be put to online publishers: is your content of news, information or opinion of current value? If the answer is ‘yes’ then move to next question. Next question: how much traffic do you get, etc.?

What about the “non-news entities” like Banana Watch? Point 11.68 (page 295 and immediately below the extract Tim selectively quotes as above) “it would be appropriate to permit non-news entities which see value in the role of the News Media Council to opt into the system. That, however, would likely be a small part of the overall regulatory system.” Yeah? Opt in or not for sites that are ‘non-news entities’.

EDIT 3/3/12: It seems like there are two misreadings of the report emerging.

The first is Tim’s above that mistakes the report’s focus on the functioning of news media for a focus on news content. The report does not seek to define ‘news’. It seeks to define the ‘news media’.

The second is from Chris Berg of the IPA who suggests that the recommendations of the report are equivalent to a licensing regime. Chris is looking at it from the consumer side and worried about restricting access to content (that is what a licensing regime does). I am not sure how this is possible when there is no discussion of restricting different forms of content at all in the report.

Disclaimer: Prof Ricketson works in my department at UC and I made a submission to the Inquiry.

14 thoughts on “What is ‘news media’? Independent Media Inquiry”

  1. Hi Glen – good to see you posting so prolifically on this.

    I think the debate on this will be important. And I think we differ here.

    I am also concerned that this establishes a de facto licensing scheme.

    To make the News Media Council work, the government will need to legislate a definition of news, and then impose an audience threshhold which determines who falls under the new regulatory scheme. This will not be a voluntary scheme. So a group of enterprises will be defined as news media by legislation, and then subject to enforcement which, in the final instance, can include fines and imprisonment. If it looks like a duck…

    The media inquiry’s report does a very good job in setting out our problems. But to reintroduce licensing of print materials 400 years after English publishers threw it off seems to me to be an unacceptable remedy.

  2. Placing constraints on access to journalistic privileges so only those producing works of journalism receive such privileges is not the same thing as placing constraints that limit access to methods of publication.

    Anyone is free to publish anything. If they are producing journalism, and they want the privileges of the journalist shield laws, then what the proposed News Media Council means is that they need to be producing quality journalism.

    I am not sure why you think that insisting on quality journalism is a bad thing?

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