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Media Minefield

Guide to NZ Media Law

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About it

In a nutshell

Media Minefield is a handbook for those interested in media regulation in New Zealand. If you’re a journalist, it’s designed to help you research and write stories so that you don’t fall foul of the many laws, broadcasting standards and ethical rules that affect the media. If you’re not a journalist, you can use it to understand what obligations journalists owe you.

What’s in it

Media Minefield will help you pick your way through the rules laid down by the Broadcasting Standards Authority, which hears complaints about television and radio programmes, without having to read their thousands of decisions.

There are copious subheadings and there’s a long index, so you can cut straight to the bit about hidden cameras or corrections or the use of file footage or authorial documentaries or bad language or privacy and public places, etc. The relevant cases are footnoted, so you can follow up on any area of interest.

The second part does much the same thing for the Press Council, which rules on complaints about newspapers and magazines.

The third part is really a guide to vetting stories. It sets out how to write stories so as to avoid lawsuits for defamation, contempt of court, invasion of privacy, breach of confidence and trespass. This part barely discusses any cases: the emphasis is on explaining the rules and providing practical guidance on how to write safe stories.

The fourth part contains 20 Golden Rules for handling complaints. Isn’t it serendipitous that these lists always work out in round numbers? This chapter is based on interviews I conducted with about a dozen leading editors and editorial managers, drawing on their wisdom and experience. The same themes came through again and again, and I’ve tried to distil them for the rest of us to take advantage of.


At the book’s launch Law Commissioner and media law guru Professor John Burrows QC called it “a great book”, while I stood by, beaming with pride. He said it provides “good and sound advice presented in a way anyone can read it”. He added, perhaps a little too charitably, “I honestly couldn’t put it down – it’s a page-turner.”

Jim Tucker, the former head of the NZ Journalists Training Organisation, said it was “a magnificent piece of work”. He said: “It will be an essential tool for every journalist and editor engaged in the act of publishing or broadcasting, because such activities engage a minefield of risk and dire consequences for getting it wrong.” (See below).

Former NZ Herald editor editor-in-chief Gavin Ellis was also generous about the book in his review for E-noted (see below), calling it “layman-friendly” and commenting that it “provides unequivocal insights into the regulatory bodies’ positions on all of those grounds on which the public has a right to complain: accuracy, balance, fairness, privacy to name a few.”

All three said that all newsrooms should keep one at hand.

Malcolm Burgess, writing in NZ Lawyer, wrote that “it’s clear that one of Price’s major talents is as a straight talker – a rare skill among academics.” Media Minefield may seem “deceptively informal”, he said, “but it is structured so that cherry picking advice on the fly is easily accomplished.”

“Importantly,” he concluded “Media Minefield is not so much about teaching journalists what they can get away with, as how to act so that problems don’t arise in the first place. On the other side of the fence, it could equally find space on a corporate spokesperson’s desk as a useful tool on keeping the media in check.”

Ursula Cheer, associate professor at the University of Canterbury, reviewed Media Minefield for the law society magazine LawTalk. She called it “a very useful and accessible book”, written “in a plain and punchy fashion”, containing advice that is “accurate and spot on”. She concludes: “It has a great deal to offer journalists, but also media lawyers and those interested in the media generally.”

Simpson Grierson’s Tracey Walker said the book offered a “mix of comprehensive information with a readable user-friendly writing style”, calling it an “invaluable guide for journalists and students of journalism alike.” (New Zealand Law Journal, February 2008, 2).

Massey communications lecturer Dr Heather Kavan says Media Minefield is “well researched and helpful” and “cuts to the chase – advising journalists on how to avoid complaints and lawsuits”. She imagines that complainants might productively rummage through its pages as well. She praises its “engaging commentary, frequent headings and friendly approach”. (Pacific Journalism Review 14(2) October 2008, 227-229, reproduced at Scoop).


How to buy it

Order it here.

New protection in media law battle

Review by Gavin Ellis, former editor-in-chief of the New Zealand Herald

Media Minefield: A Journalists’ Guide to Media Regulation in New Zealand by Steven Price (New Zealand Journalists Training Organisation, Wellington).

Any editor without a copy of Burrows’ learned Media Law in New Zealand goes into battle with a significant chink in the armour. Any reporter without the basic Journalist’s Guide to the Law is a weak-point in the defensive line. Now there is a publication that gives a new level of battlefield protection.

Steven Price, well-known as a commentator on media law, has filled a significant gap in the journalist’s arsenal with a book that spells out how to avoid those traps that expose media to industry regulatory bodies rather than to the courts.

The first two parts of Media Minefield take the decisions of the Broadcasting Standards Authority and the Press Council and turn them into a series of clearly explained ‘thou shalt nots’, grouped under logical headings and sub-headings and supported by an excellent index.

The two bodies are dealt with separately, providing broadcast and print journalists with unambiguous advice based on the rulings specific to each branch of the profession. This is not, however, simply a re-packaging of broadcasting codes and press principles. Price explains the meaning of these guidelines and reinforces the explanations with real-world examples drawn from adjudications. His approach provides unequivocal insights into the regulatory bodies’ positions on all of those grounds on which the public has a right to complain: accuracy, balance, fairness, privacy to name a few.

Price does not challenge the validity of the ‘precedents’ set by the two bodies. He takes them at face value, perhaps on the basis that the BSA and Press Council will be guided by past decisions and to argue the point would detract from the purpose of the book. Similarly, a comparison between rulings by the two bodies would have been interesting but Price has not indulged his own intellectual curiosity in that direction. This is a manual for journalists and such esoteric discussion would cross-contaminate what is a refreshingly straightforward text.

John Burrows and his collaborator, Ursula Cheer, devoted a chapter of their book to complaints procedures but, understandably, took a legalistic approach to the subject. Price has not been tempted to let his legal background dictate the text, although he does not neglect the law. Part 3 is arrestingly entitled “practical advice on avoiding lawsuits” but has the same layman-friendly approach as the rest of the text.

If there is any criticism to be made of the book it is in Part 4 which gives “20 Golden Rules” for handling complaints. An editor who is not already well aware of such rules probably shouldn’t be in the job. Perhaps Price saw some merit in writing them down.

Publication of Media Minefield coincided with the release of the review of the Press Council. Should the recommendations of the review be implemented, an update of Price’s book may be in order but the present edition will not be invalidated. Rulings by the two regulatory bodies have an enduring quality.

Every newsroom should have at least one copy of Steven Price’s mine detector.
Gavin Ellis, E-noted, Spring 2007

Media Minefield “a great book”

By Frank Neill, LawTalk, Issue 699, 12 Nov 07, 18 (pdf version)

Lawyer and journalist Steven Price has produced “a great book” in Media Minefield, Law Commissioner John Burrows QC said when launching the new work at Victoria University of Wellington on 16 October.

Professor Burrows is well qualified to make such an assessment, being the author (along with Canterbury University Associate Professor Ursula Cheer) of Media Law in New Zealand.

“I honestly couldn’t put it down – it’s a page-turner,” Professor Burrows said. “Every newsroom should have one.”

The book provided “good, sound advice presented in a way anyone can read it.”

Its aim is to help people navigate their way through the minefield of laws, standards and regulations that affect the media in this country.

The first two parts summarise the decisions of the Broadcasting Standards Authority and the Press Council.

Part three offers an explanation of the laws of contempt, defamation, privacy, breach of confidence and trespass.

Part four offer advice for handling complaints against journalists.

“I think it is a magnificent piece of work,” former Executive Director of the Journalists Training Organisation, Jim Tucker, told the launch.

“It will be an essential tool for every journalist and editor engaged in the act of publishing or broadcasting, because such activities engage a minefield of risk and dire consequences for getting it wrong.”

Author Steven Price “has produced something we desperately needed,” he said. “I think this is going to be the central guide in every newsroom in New Zealand.”

Just as John Burrows is well placed to comment on a new work on media law, so Steven price is an ideal person to write such a text.

After graduating from Victoria University with a BA/LLB with first class honours, he worked at Kensington Swan for a few years. His main client was Fair Go.

“It dawned on me that journalists had more fun, so I landed a Fulbright scholarship and headed over to Berkeley,” he says. At the University of California at Berkeley, he completed a Master of Journalism.

Steven Price teaches media law at Victoria University and regularly comments on media matters for radio and various publications. He has offered legal advice on Nicky Hager’s recent books, and this year argued the successful appeal against a High Court decision to ban Anne Hunt’s book Broken Silence (Hunt v A CA 114/06 [2007] NZCA 332)