Freedom of the Press 2011

Status: Free
Legal Environment: 3
Political Environment: 6
Economic Environment: 6
Total Score: 15

Press freedom in New Zealand is guaranteed by convention and statute rather than constitutional right, and it is supplemented by freedom of information legislation passed in 1982. Sedition legislation was abolished in 2007. While the media is regarded as free and independent, concern was raised regarding a proposed law that has been criticized as likely to erode a long-established right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of sources. Tabled in Parliament in November 2010, the draft Search and Surveillance Bill would force the country’s journalists to answer police questions or hand over documents such as media sources and notes if enacted in its present form. Breaches of the proposed law by journalists could mean penalties of up to one year in jail. Reports said the chairman of Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Select Committee, Chester Borrows, acknowledged concerns about the impact of the bill on journalists, saying the draft legislation might warrant further consideration. The major journalists’ union, a section of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), made a plea for new police powers regarding search, seizure, and the disclosure of sources to be withdrawn from the proposed law. The bill was also severely criticized by the International Federation of Journalists. Until now only the country’s Serious Fraud Office could force journalists to reveal their sources, with judges empowered to order a journalist to do so only in restricted circumstances. The bill grants this power to police in cases involving a substantial jail sentence.

There is growing concern about other Pacific governments exploiting New Zealand’s broadcasting regulatory body to impose restrictions on the freedom of New Zealand media to report on the region’s politics. During the year, for example, Samoa appealed to New Zealand’s Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) twice in an attempt to diminish critical journalism. The first time, in March, the Samoan government achieved a ruling partially upholding a complaint against Television New Zealand’s Pacific affairs correspondent Barbara Dreaver for her report on gun smuggling in Samoa. In November, the government threatened to take another complaint to the BSA against Television 3 current affairs presenter John Campbell for his report on the Samoan government’s alleged misuse of tsunami relief money. Journalists are able to cover the news freely, and physical attacks or threats against the media are rare. There were no reports of harassment or assault against journalists during the year.

The country has two state-owned broadcasting corporations, Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand; otherwise, print and broadcast media ownership is private. Four companies, all foreign-owned, control a substantial portion of the print media sector. Australia’s John Fairfax Holdings owns almost 48 percent of New Zealand’s daily newspaper circulation. The country’s largest and most influential daily newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, and a string of smaller provincial and suburban newspapers are owned by the Australian Provincial Newspapers Group, while Australian Consolidated Press dominates New Zealand magazines. Television New Zealand faces increasing competition from the pay channel network Sky and its free-to-air channel, Prime. Another rival, TV3, part of the Mediaworks radio and television group, faced an economic downturn, and Māori Television continued to develop strongly with two channels, one a multilingual broadcaster in the indigenous Te Reo and English languages. Radio New Zealand International continues to have influence in the Pacific region as an independent public broadcaster, in spite of a meager budget. There are no government restrictions on the internet, which was accessed by 83 percent of the population during the year.