‘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?

Peter Dunne on recreational cannabis regulation

On Q+A last night peter Dunne was asked where he now stands on cannabis use and law.

Corin Dann: You’ve been on top of this issue for many years, as a Minister, under a lot of pressure from both sides. Where do you sit now personally on the issue of cannabis?

Peter Dunne: I’ve set my view out probably pretty clearly over the last two or three years.

I think we can move to to treat cannabis for recreational purposes in a regulated market, where we determine the level of risk, where we determine how it’s to be sold, to whom it’s to be sold, and we can have a limited amount of personal cultivation and personal manufacture, pretty akin to the market we have now for tobacco actually.

It keeps it under tight control and the government…

Corin Dann: R18…

Peter Dunne: no advertising, price set by the state effectively…

Corin Dann: It’s interesting that you;ve reached that position. Were you there ten years ago?

Peter Dunne: probably not ten years ago but i think over the last five years I’ve moved to that.

But can I just say one thing. For the referendum to be effective you’ve got to have that model effectively set up to go once the referendum result occurs, a bit like we did when MMP came in. If the vote was yes, here’s what happens. If you just left it as an open ended question you’ll see more of what we saw this evening and no progress.

That’s what Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick is proposing. See Q+A: Should NZ legalise recreational cannabis?

Peter Dunne: …that brings you back to how this whole process is structured. I don’t think the Government’s got it’s head properly around this at the moment.

If you’re going to have a referendum which is going to be definitive in some way, then you need to have a proper considered period of education and information dealing with all of these issues beforehand.

Probably the best part of a year actually, which means if you’re going to have the referendum you’d probably want to have it at the latter part of next year clear of local body elections next October, and well before the general election.

I think they’re a way behind the 8 ball on that frankly.

That’s how it appears to me. Last week Minister of Police spoke of treating drugs as a health issue, Jacinda Ardern has said that in the past, but it appears to be all talk and little action apart from Swarbrick doing her best to push things along.

Full panel discussion:

Environment Minister wants to regulate to force cow destocking

Yesterday the Environment Minister David Parker said in a Q&A interview that environmental regulations were needed to push down the number of cows in New Zealand.

Asked whether regulations would force farmers to destock Parker said “In some areas, it will”.

He says that the Government has won the political battle in a representative democracy so can do what they want – but they still may need the support of NZ First.

Corin Dann You did promise a lot, in Opposition, on water and on cleaning up our rivers, making them swimmable. Will you deliver on that?

David Parker Most certainly. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to fight for environmental causes. This is my last time through cabinet, and I’ll have failed as a politician if I don’t use my position now to stop this getting…

Corin Dann So, what does success look like?

David Parker Success, in the short term, looks like stopping the degradation getting worse everywhere; within five years, having measureable improvements; and then, over the succeeding generation, getting back to where we used to be.

Corin Dann So an admirable goal, but the question is — how will you do it? Now, you have a— you’ve talked about beefing up the current guidelines, the national policy statement on water. How far will you go? And I guess the key question is here — will you cap the number of cows that can be in a certain paddock, depending on nutrient levels? In other words, potentially force farmers to destock?

David Parker Well, cow numbers have already peaked and are going down, but yes, in some areas, the number of cows per hectare is higher than the environment can sustain. That won’t be done through a raw cap on cow numbers; it will be done on nutrient limits, the amount of nutrient that can be lost from a farm to a waterway, because it’s not just a dairy cow issue.

Corin Dann But it will have the same effect, though, won’t it?

David Parker In some areas, it will. I mean, that’s one of the really difficult issues that we’ve got work being done on at the moment by both my own ministry, but the Land and Water Forum and various NGOs. How do you allocate the right to discharge nutrient where you’ve got more than the environment can sustain between those who are currently doing it and those who want to do it with undeveloped land?

And Parker said that farmers would not be compensated:

Corin Dann …you’re going to have to force some farmers in some areas, depending on those conditions, to destock. Now, does that open up you do legal action? Do they get compensation?

David Parker No, you don’t compensate people for stopping pollution. Just because you could pollute last year doesn’t mean to say you should be allowed to do it or paid to stop doing it.

This may help the environment, but what about regional economies?

Corin Dann Have you done the work that shows what the economic impact for some, particularly dairying regions, would be?

David Parker We haven’t done an analysis of what the economic effects would be. But it’s very, very difficult to model, because second-best from the farmer perspective may still be very close to the same outcome profit-wise.

I wonder if they have done an analysis of what the environmental effects would be. Maybe that’s very difficult to model too, so they just do what they think might work and too bad for the farmers affected.

Corin Dann But how are you going to make farmers change if they don’t want to?

David Parker Well, the economics will drive that change where there is a high-value land use. Where economics don’t, regulation will.

There’s only three ways to change behaviour — education, regulation and price.

We fought an election on this issue. We’ve got a representative democracy. We’ve won the political battle. Now it’s about implementation. Most of the farming sector agree with that. There is the occasional outlier. One of the Federated Farmers heads from the Wairarapa during the last election denied that dairy farming caused pollution of rivers. So there are some people who are in denial. Now, those people will have to be regulated to do the right thing, because they may not be willing to do it voluntarily. That’s the purpose of environmental regulation.

I think there is fairly universal agreement that the environment needs to be treated and protected better.

We’ve got a representative democracy. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Parker has won the political battle yet.

Labour may not care about forcing some farmers out of business, and the Greens have  wanted lower cow numbers, but National and probably NZ First could be quite reluctant to impact too severely on farming in the regions.

This wasn’t covered by the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement. The only related mentions:

Environment

  • If the Climate Commission determines that agriculture is to be included in the ETS,
    then upon entry, the free allocation to agriculture will be 95% but with all revenues from
    this source recycled back into agriculture in order to encourage agricultural innovation,
    mitigation and additional planting of forestry.
  • No resource rentals for water in this term of Parliament.
  • Higher water quality standards for urban and rural using measurements which take into
    account seasonal differences.

So no agreement on destocking regulations. Of course they have kept there more detailed agreement secret.