Last month, the Department of Internal Affairs [DIA] opened consultation on what it described as “proposed reforms to modernise the way media and online platforms are regulated in New Zealand”.
The reason reform is required, according to DIA, is that “the existing regulatory system is decades old and predates media platforms such as social media”.
As DIA soothingly explains, the purpose of the exercise is “to reduce the exposure to harmful content by bringing all platforms into one cohesive framework with consistent safety standards”.
And lest you have any doubts about the good intentions that animate this initiative, rest assured that DIA is thinking of the children: “We need … a much greater emphasis on the safety of children, young people, and vulnerable groups from illegal and unsafe content.”
So, what’s not to like, you might ask?
Plenty, as it happens.
For starters, you may have noted that the content children – and, possibly in practice, the rest of us – would be “protected” from under the proposal is described by DIA as “illegal and unsafe”.
Now, pretty obviously, there are already protections against illegal content in NZ – by dint of laws that have already been passed [the clue is in the word “illegal”]. Granted, the regulators already responsible for policing this content could probably be better resourced to do their jobs, but is there a demonstrable need for an all-new regulatory regime to deal with it? Consider me unconvinced at this stage.
But what about “unsafe” content – beginning with what does DIA actually mean by “unsafe”?
It’s not entirely clear. Although in its discussion document, DIA provides three examples of “unsafe” content that few would take issue with [promoting disordered eating, adult content in video games, and violent misogynistic content], it appears it’s a distinctly relative term: “Unsafe content is where there is a risk of harm occurring if that content was experienced by a person. Everyone’s risk profile is different.”
So what happens if it’s judged that there’s a possibility some content might “harm” someone else but not you? Do you still get to access that content or – out of an abundance of caution – is it denied to all? Again, this appears unclear.
And what’s meant by “harm” – which in general usage runs the gamut from hurt feelings to dismemberment and death? Once more, DIA’s definition is opaque [although it appears to include things that people “feel is harmful”, which hardly narrows the field].
Fortunately, though, we won’t have to worry our pretty little heads about such subtleties because DIA is generously proposing that an unelected super regulator be appointed to sort out all that pointy headed detail about what is permissible for all the media available in New Zealand – including traditional outlets, social media, film, television, and gaming – to distribute.
Because if there’s something we can all agree on in these fractured and divisive times, it’s that politically unaccountable officials should absolutely be trusted to decide what we can and cannot express.
Or maybe it strikes you as an example of authoritarian overreach?
Whatever your view, it’s my possibly harmful opinion that you should take the opportunity to make a submission on this proposal before submissions close on July 31.