‘Digital and media expert group’ advising on social media regulation revealed

It has taken an Official Information Act request to reveal the members of a digital and media expert group assembled by the Prime Minister to advise her on possible regulation of social media.

Information about the objectives of the group was withheld – “I have considered the public interest considerations”, but surely secrecy is not in the public interest here.

NZ Herald (6 April 2019): Ardern changes down a gear from speedy gun reform to social media landscape

The areas of policy in which Ardern will be more deliberately paced are in regulation of social media, and other issues that impinge on media generally, free speech and the free exchange of ideas. The effects would be more wide-ranging and could be insidious.

Ardern has put together a group of digital and media experts who met with her for the first time in Auckland yesterday to discuss what happened and may be a sounding board and think tank for future policy proposals.

NZ Herald (8 April 2019):  Jacinda Ardern calls for global approach to block harm on digital platforms

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the global community should “speak with one voice” when it comes to blocking harmful content on social media platforms.

Ardern has criticised the role of social media in the Christchurch terror attack on March 15, and she met with a group of digital media experts in Auckland on Friday to learn more about the issue.

“I wanted to make sure I had the views of those that work in the [social media] space, particularly given that questions are being raised around what role New Zealand could and should play in this debate at an international level.”

Many people ‘work in the [social media] space’. Meeting with an unnamed group is only going to get a small number of views.

She said she would be happy to say who she met with, but would seek their permission to do so first.

So if people she meets with don’t want to be revealed Ardern would keep this secret?

Matthew Hooton spotted the reference to the ‘expert group’ so put in an OIA request asking who the experts were, and also who had been invited but couldn’t attend. Yesterday he received a response.

Official Information Act request relating to the digital and media expert group the Prime Minister met with on 5 April 2019.

The group provides an informal way to test policy ideas and inform government thinking about its response to the role of social media in the events of 15 March 2019 in Christchurch. The people currently involved are:

  • Jordan Carter, Chief Executive, Internet NZ
  • Nat Torkington, technologist
  • Miriyana Alexander, Premium Content Editor, NZME
  • Rick Shera, Internet and Digital Business Law Partner, Lowndes Jordan
  • Michael Wallmansberger, cybersecurity professional, independent director; Chair of the CERT NZ Establishment Advisory Board
  • Victoria Maclennan, Managing Director, MD OptimalBI Ltd; Chair of the Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group; Co-Chair, NZRise
  • John Wesley-Smith, GL Regulatory Affairs, Spark
  • Lizzie Marvelly, NZ Herald columnist, Villainesse.com co-founder and editor

Not all people involved in the group attended the meeting on Friday, 5 April 20129.

The Office and the department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet assembled the group to have a mix of technology sector, media and legal expertise. The Government Chief Digital Officer and the Minister for Government Digital Services, Hon Dr Megan Woods, provided input on their selection.

To the question for “5. Information on future meetings and the objectives and work programme for the group”:

With regards to question five no formal work programme has been established.

Information was withheld on future meetings and the objectives, and also on these requests:

  • What were the objectives for the group at it’s first meeting?
  • All notes taken by officials or ministerial staff at the first meeting.

So until now we had a semi-secret advisory group, and the objectives and work programme are still secret.

What happened to Ardern’s Government’s promises of openness and transparency?

Ardern’s Chief of Staff closed his OIA response with:

In making my decision, I have considered the public interest considerations in section 9(1) of the Act.

From the Act:

9 Other reasons for withholding official information

(1) Where this section applies, good reason for withholding official information exists, for the purpose of section 5, unless, in the circumstances of the particular case, the withholding of that information is outweighed by other considerations which render it desirable, in the public interest, to make that information available.

I would have thought that it was desirable in the public interest for discussions on social media regulation to be as open as possible.

Social media is used by and affects many people. This sort of secrecy on an advisory group on possible social media regulation is alarming.

Consultation should be as wide as possible, and given the medium involved, that should be easy to do.


Martyn Bradbury makes a reasonable point: Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm shouldn’t an advisory board to the PM on censoring the internet require some academics and experts on civil rights and freedom of speech?

Leave a comment

12 Comments

  1. Tony Stuart

     /  11th May 2019

    There’s a bright side to this.

    If the PM is a buddy of Miriyana Alexander, Premium Content Editor at NZME, then there’s a better than even chance that those of us who choose NOT to subscribe to the Herald’s “premium” content won’t have to read all the puff pieces about the PM!

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  11th May 2019

      Relying on Hamish Price , a former national stooges’ opinion -can be fraught with peril

      Carter seems to be there because hes Chair of Internet NZ, not long ago a minor labour candidate
      “Prime Minister and Cabinet assembled the group to have a mix of technology sector, media and legal expertise. The Government Chief Digital Officer and the Minister for Government Digital Services, Hon Dr Megan Woods, provided input on their selection.

      Reply
  2. David

     /  11th May 2019

    What a strange thing to try and keep secret.
    I think she learned her dark arts from Blair with that incredibly tight control of the media through privilege, access and stroking egos and bank balances. I imagine thats why the baby is ridiculously being kept from public view, its quite something to boast you have had a private audience with the never before seen royal princess, keeps the maternal opinion writers on board.

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  11th May 2019

      “. I imagine thats why the baby is ridiculously being kept from public view,”
      No . Thats what all previous political leaders did with their young children apart from very rare situations- Bridges and his wife have been shameless is exploiting the very young kids for multiple staged photo shoots to get some shine on Bridges hopleess polling numbers.

      People knew English and his wife had heaps of kids – did you see their birthdays in the womens mags? Even Keys kids were out of sight until late teens and university. That is the normal.

      Reply
  3. David

     /  11th May 2019

    Macron is meeting Zuckerburg today in Paris apparently French officials have been embeded in Facebook since January as they decide how to self regulate.

    Reply
  4. Pink David

     /  11th May 2019

    “Nat Torkington, technologist”

    This got my interest, what exactly is a ‘technologist’. 30 seconds on google reveals:

    Nat Torkington
    “I help startups, corporates, and individuals with their technology and business problems. Host of Kiwi Foo. I have a potty mouth.”

    Ah, right then. Well positioned to advise on censorship of the internet.

    Reply
  5. Pink David

     /  11th May 2019

    “I would have thought that it was desirable in the public interest for discussions on social media regulation to be as open as possible.
    Social media is used by and affects many people. This sort of secrecy on an advisory group on possible social media regulation is alarming.
    Consultation should be as wide as possible, and given the medium involved, that should be easy to do.”

    Come on now, this is just going to be another captain’s call by the worlds most respected leader and her brains trust.

    Reply
    • Which will then be immediately walked back and a working group set up to report back sometime in the does’t matter.

      Reply
      • Duker

         /  11th May 2019

        Worked for national… Shall I pick another of their 100 or so working groups and reviews to illustrate the example
        Even Nationals tax working group got the short shrift over it’s land tax proposal…. But Key and English were cunning and picked up on their TWG proposal of GST increase……after the election and in spite of denying they would increase GST.

        Reply
    • Pink David

       /  12th May 2019

      As unnatural as it is to agree with Bradbury, he is absolutely right.

      Reply
  1. Members of ‘digital and media expert group’ respond | Your NZ

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