Independent Review Of The New Zealand Press Council
An independent review of the New Zealand Press Council has been completed by the Hon Sir Ian Barker and Professor Lewis Evans and released publicly today (Wednesday 14 November).
The report was commissioned and funded by the Press Council’s constituent parties, the Newspaper Publishers’ Association (NPA), the Magazine Publishers Association (MPA) and the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union (the EPMU).
President of the NPA, Michael Muir said today that the report and recommendations from the review team were very comprehensive and represented a milestone in the progress of the Press Council, first established in 1972.
“The NPA and the other funding parties will now consider the recommendations of the review team. Meanwhile we believe that in the interests of transparency the report should be made public,” said Mr Muir.
The Press Council is Chaired by former High Court Judge, Hon Barry Paterson and adjudicates on complaints of unprofessional and unethical reporting within the print media.
A summary of the recommendations of the review is attached. The full report is available on www.presscouncil.org.nz.
RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF THE NEW ZEALAND PRESS COUNCIL
We summarise our Recommendations thus:
1. In addition to its complaint handling role, the Press Council should:
(a) promote freedom of expression through a responsible and independent print media and through adherence to high journalistic and editorial standards;
(b) conduct limited research into media freedom issue and utilise its consideration of these issues in its decisions;
(c) sponsor an annual public lecture on a media-related topic and an annual prize at one or more journalism schools;
(d) produce occasional papers on media freedom issues.
2. The Press Council should become an independent legal entity.
3. The current constitution of the Press Council should be changed to reflect its position as a separate legal entity and to incorporate changes listed in this report designed to enhance the perception of its independence from its funders.
4. The Press Council should be more amply resourced to enable it the better to perform both its existing functions and the additional functions recommended in this report.
5. All publications which accept the jurisdiction of the Press Council should either individually, or through their parent group, agree to conform to the Press Council’s complaints process, including the requirement to publish its decisions when required so to do.
6. The Press Council should continue to operate from premises separate from those of any of its funders.
7. Provision should be made for an independent review of the operation of the Press Council ever five years.
8. Amendments to the existing process should be made as follows:
(a) The Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) of the Press Council should consider all complaints at first instance and act as “gatekeeper”, to filter either vexatious complaints or those more appropriately dealt with by other agencies.
(b) The CEO should deal initially with complaints which, in the CEO’s view, may be capable of quick resolution by consultation with the editorial staff concerned.
(c) The CEO should be trained in mediation skills and should offer conciliation to the parties to a complaint once the publication’s response has been received, as a means of disposing of the complaint to the mutual satisfaction of both parties. Such mediation/conciliation would be on a confidential and without prejudice basis.
(d) There should be an established “fast track” Complaints Committee, consisting of the independent chair, one media member and one public member to deal with complaints that benefit from rapid consideration. This Committee should have delegated power from the Press Council to make determinations. It should operate continuously. These persons need not necessarily reside in Wellington, given telephone conferencing and email. There should also be a right of appeal to this Committee from the refusal by the CEO to accept a complaint. There should be a right of appeal from decisions of this Committee to the balance of the Press Council.
(e) The time limit for laying a complaint to the Press Council should be reduced to two months after publication, with the right of the CEO to receive a complaint within three months in exceptional circumstances.
(f) The right of the publication to a “second reply” should be abolished. There should be one complaint by the Complainant, and one full response by the publication, with the complainant having a right of reply only on new matters in the response. In the discretion of the CEO, a publication should have a limited right of rebuttal on new matters raised by a complainant in a reply.
(g) A waiver from bringing suit against the publication should not be required of complainants.
(h) Both complainants and publications should be encouraged to attend Press Council meetings, to express in an informal way their particular viewpoints. We see no reason to encourage legal representation in what is essentially an informal process.
(i) The practice of one member of the Press Council preparing decisions in draft should be replaced by one member of the secretariat (if possible) preparing a précis of the issues and suggesting possible outcomes.
(j) Press Council decisions should be written on a standard template and efforts should be made to diminish any impression of a compromised decision.
(k) A précis of all decisions should be prepared by the secretariat suitable for publication in the media, and the full decision reported on the Press Council website.
(l) Each publication should have an established readily-accessible protocol for dealing with complaints. The Press Council should develop applicable protocols in consultation with the media.
(m) The Statement of Principles of the Press Council should be reviewed and updated regularly by the Press Council itself, which should take into account submissions from interested parties and Codes of Practice/Principles from other jurisdictions and from existing media organisations. Such a review should be conducted with urgency.
(n) The Press Council should have a graduated scale of penalties, as detailed in this Review in Section VII.
(o) There should be a majority of public members participating in any decision on a complaint.
(p) One of the nominees of the EPMU on the Press Council should be replaced by an independent journalist chosen by the Press Council itself, subject to the requirements of the form of entity to be adopted.
(q) The jurisdiction of the Press Council should encompass e-publications in the same manner as for hard-copy print publications.
9. A full-time CEO should be appointed to run the Press Council, including the complaints process and to progress the other initiatives recommended for the Press Council in this Review.
10. The budget for the Press Council should be set annually by a Budget Committee of the incorporated body.
11. The arrangement under which the Press Council rents office space from the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) should continue so long as there is space available, particular for the enlarged functions of the Press Council. The ASA should be asked to provide office services under contract for the Press Council, if it is willing to do so.
12. The Press Council should be more accessible and better known in the community than it currently is. In addition to Recommendations II.1, we recommend the following:
(a) The Press Council should have an 0800 telephone number which should appear, along with the Press Council’s website details, in all Press Council publicity.
(b) Newspapers and magazines should be required to publish a reasonably regular statement of the rights of the public to approach the Press Council, just as broadcasters are required to advise the public of the right to approach the Broadcasting Standards Authority (“BSA”).
(c) The Press Council’s website should be brought up to date with past decisions; care should be taken to ensure that it provides comprehensive information about the Press Council and its operations and a digest of previous decisions. The website should include easily-accessible forms to facilitate the lodging of complaints.
(d) The Press Council should have a special committee to increase public awareness of its services and functions.
(e) The Press Council staff should be able to track complaints electronically.
(f) The Press Council should communicate with kindred organisations overseas – particularly its Australian counterpart.
Our recommendations entail some enhancement of resources for the Press Council. Although they contain avenues of economy, the do imply some increase in cost. We have been cognisant of this and consider that we have proposed no more elaborate an institution than need be in the New Zealand setting.