Law Commission proposes overhaul of new media law

Issues paper contains recommendations designed to curb harmful online behaviour

A wide ranging issues paper on new media has been released by the Law Commission, which makes a number of recommendations designed to curb harmful online behaviour. The commission was charged by former justice minister Simon Power with reviewing the current regulatory regime for news media with respect to its adequacy in catering for new and emerging media platforms. While the commission says it is seeking wider submissions from the public before it makes firm proposals next year, its initial recommendations are as follows:

  • Review the statute book to ensure all existing legislation is expressed widely enough so that it applies in the digital environment.
  • Consider introducing a new offence of “maliciously impersonating another person”.
  • Amend the Harassment Act 1997 to remove any doubt that it applies to cyber-bullying.
  • Clarify whether the offences relating to a "telephone device" in the Telecommunications Act 2001 should be extended to computers and possibly internet communications.
  • Amend the Human Rights Act 1993 to ensure its provisions barring publications “likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt” people on the grounds of race, ethnic or national origins apply in all forms of digital publishing. Also to consider amending the Act to include cyberspace as a “public place” from which people should not be excluded as a result of harassment by others.
  • The commission says “there may be some merit in making it an offence, in some circumstances, to publish intimate photos even when they were taken with the subject's consent.”
  • Consider making incitement to commit suicide a crime.
  • Introduce a Communications Tribunal, operating at a lower level than courts but with powers to grant compensation, or a Communications Commissioner attached to the Human Rights Commission.

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