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TVNZ’s weird response to the Law Commission

By Steven | March 28, 2013

Stuff is reporting that the NMSA is “not to broadcasters’ liking” and that “broadcasting agencies said dissolving the BSA would leave gaping holes for their non-news content.”

Odd. For one thing, Stuff only seems to have talked to one agency, TVNZ. The TVNZ spokeswoman said she was concerned that broadcasters like TVNZ, which show both news and current affairs content and entertainment programming, would be accountable to different standards bodies.

“You have to ask if that will be any less confusing to viewers who want to lay a formal complaint.” 

 This hardly makes any sense at all. Is TVNZ worried that there would be gaps for non-news content (because the BSA would be abolished) or that there would be two sets of standards (because the BSA would be retained)?

I don’t know whether the confusion comes from Stuff or TVNZ, but I do know there’s confusion.

The Law Commission’s proposal only relates to news, current affairs and factual programming. So there may be some residual role, perhaps temporarily, for the BSA, in relation to entertainment content (ie does it breach standards of taste and decency? is it unsuitable for children?, but not whether it’s fair and accurate). In a short chapter in the end, the Law Commission suggests that the government review the question of how we set standards in relation to entertainment content.

True, there will be some fuzziness about the edges of the concept of factual programming. When does reality TV become entertainment? Docu-dramas? The Law Commission says if it purports to provide factual information about real people, it’s within NMSA’s bailiwick. There’ll be a few programmes on the margin. But not many. It will usually be obvious who to complain to. And it’s likely that the censor’s office and the remaining BSA powers will be rolled up at some stage: that’s another messy interface in the law.

But the biggest head-scratcher here is the suggestion that broadcasters are hostile to the report. Most have accepted the looming need for a converged regulator. Many have been suspicious of the BSA and its political appointments and statutory basis. They prefer self-regulation. Well, the Law Commission’s proposal seems a big step in the right direction by those lights.

If there’s a real dual-complaint issue, then surely it’s the problem that many people will complain both to the BSA (about a particular broadcast) and the new Online Media Standards Authority (about the fact that it’s now on the broadcaster’s website), so the broadcaster will have to track two sets of standards and two sets of complaints jurisprudence.

It gets better: their funding obligations may be smaller. They get an appeal right to an NMSA appeal body (easier than using the courts, and probably with a wider appeal remit). There’s a mediation process that may head off court claims. There is no chance that damages will be awarded against them, and the Law Commission makes no mention of costs.

If you’re a broadcaster, what’s not to like?

Topics: Broadcasting Standards Authority | 44 Comments »

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