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Who needs the BSA?

By Steven | May 20, 2008

This might surprise you.

I was looking at broadcast licences the other day. As you might guess, they can be subject to conditions, and most of the ones that are imposed relate to technical issues: making sure there’s no overlapping use of the spectrum, for example. Mostly, they’re nothing to do with the content of what’s broadcast. But there’s an exception. All broadcast licences under the Radiocommunications Act (and that includes TV broadcast licences, since they have to use the spectrum too) are subject to the conditions in Schedule 1 (see sections 99 and 101).

What are those conditions? The interesting one requires licencees not to broadcast material that is false, fictitious or misleading. (MED tells me that this may have had its genesis in preventing false distress signals, though the schedule creates obligations that are untrammelled and seem to apply to all broadcast programming).

Even more interesting: the Radiocommunications Act contains some fairly detailed remedy provisions. On my reading of the Act, a broadcast that breaches the conditions of the licence (including those in Schedule 1) is a prohibited broadcast (see sections 101(2) and 103). This is an offence (sections 103 and 128) and can trigger civil remedies – damages and an injunction (sections 103 and 117-119). Really – those remedies are actually set out.

MED tell me that these provisions have never been used (or even attempted to be used) to punish or restrain a broadcast programme, though oblique reference was made to them in Ransfield v TRN [2005] 1 NZLR 233, at para [23].

But it remains an intriguing possibility. It seems to present an alternative remedy to going to the BSA, and indeed to an action for defamation, in cases where broadcasts are – or will be – false or misleading. It’s better than a complaint to the BSA in several ways: it can found an injunction or damages, and may be less subject to the BSA’s ability to carve out exceptions to the accuracy principle (though it’s possible – likely even – that the courts would create their own limitations, such as a materiality requirement). Injunctions may be easier to get than they are in defamation cases, where they are almost impossible, though again, it’s not clear what threshold questions would be applied, or how the remedies might dovetail with the NZ Bill of Rights Act.

Topics: Broadcasting Standards Authority, Defamation, Injunctions, NZ Bill of Rights Act | No Comments »

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