Broadcasting Minister Melissa Lee hints at tighter regulation of online streaming platforms to help local TV

Broadcasting Minister Melissa Lee has hinted at tighter regulation of online streaming platforms operating in New Zealand, to help struggling local broadcasters.    

Lee is working on a paper to bring to Cabinet ideas on how to make local media more sustainable, after Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) announced it would close Newshub, and TVNZ confirmed plans to axe several local shows, including Sunday and Fair Go.    

The closure of the Newshub newsroom would mean hundreds of job losses, and at the time would have left just one television news broadcast in operation, state-funded 1 News.   

Then on Tuesday, WBD announced it had reached an agreement with online news website Stuff to provide a daily TV news bulletin for Three from July 6, the day after Newshub Live at 6pm's final broadcast.    

Lee welcomed the news, telling Newshub she was "really, really happy" to hear about the deal between the two media companies.  

"It is two commercial companies collaborating to provide a solution to move forward and I think everyone will be very excited to hear the news." 

When pressed on what her Cabinet paper will include to help sustain local media, Lee wouldn't give much away, but did hint at tighter regulation of online streaming platforms operating in New Zealand, by amending the Broadcasting Act.    

"The Broadcasting Act is from 1989. It was set in place well before the Internet was available and there are regulations in there where certain segments of the broadcasting system is not regulated while local New Zealand broadcasters are regulated," she told Newshub.    

"We need to provide regulation that is fit for purpose."  

Lee also pointed to Labour's Fair Digital Bargaining Bill, which would require social media platforms that make use of news content to strike deals with media outlets to pay for that content. The proposed law passed its first reading in Parliament and is at the select committee stage.   

"That is also under consideration," Lee told Newshub. 

But in its submission to the select committee, Google threatened to "reassess" its operations in New Zealand, if the legislation were to pass.   

"Google does not earn or seek to earn meaningful revenue from news," the US-based online search giant said, adding that: "The bulk of our revenue comes not from news-seeking queries, but from queries with commercial intent, like when someone searches for 'running shoes' and then clicks on an ad."  

Facebook, for its part, argued that "news content from New Zealand news organisations on Facebook is published on the platform voluntarily" and that the proposed law "will not solve the longstanding digital transformation challenges facing the news industry".  

Lee said the media sector is "going through a lot of pain" but acknowledged there "isn't a silver bullet" to fix the issues.  

"What the Government can do is look at things like the Broadcasting Act which needs to be updated so that it is fit for purpose."