New Zealand | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

New Zealand

New Zealand

Freedom of the Press 2013

2013 Scores

Press Status


Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


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. The media are generally regarded as free and independent, and concerns about press freedom in the country eased during 2012 after a relatively troubled 2011. However, in March 2012 the parliament passed the controversial Search and Surveillance Act, which forces journalists to answer police questions, identify sources, and hand over notes and other documents. Breaches of the law carry penalties of up to one year in jail. While Justice Minister Judith Collins insisted that the law was necessary to bring “order, certainty, clarity, and consistency” to outdated laws, opponents derided it as a step toward a police state. The opposition Labor Party said it would seek to repeal provisions in the law that allowed the police’s Serious Fraud Office to raid media offices without a warrant.

The New Zealand Law Commission released two reports in December 2011 and June 2012 that made preliminary suggestions for reform of the regulatory environment for the media, including extending the legal rights and responsibilities of news media to online outlets. The commission proposed replacing the statutory Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA), which currently regulates all traditional broadcasters, and the industry-based Press Council (NZPC), which regulates print media, with a new regulator that would cover all forms of media, including online outlets, and would be independent of both the government and the media industry. At the end of 2012, New Zealand media were preparing to preempt the recommendations by establishing an online media self-regulator, the Online Media Standards Authority (OMSA).

Journalists are generally able to cover the news freely, and physical attacks or threats against the media are rare. There were no reports of physical harassment or assault against journalists during 2012. However, several incidents in 2011 had raised concerns about political interference with media content, including searches at multiple media offices for a controversial recording of a meeting involving Prime Minister John Key, considerable political pressure on an investigative reporter for his work on New Zealand troops handing over prisoners to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and a 10-day ban on a newspaper’s use of its press office in the parliamentary complex after it published a photograph of a protester in the public gallery, in violation of standing parliamentary rules.

New Zealand has two state-owned broadcasting corporations, Television New Zealand (TVNZ) and Radio New Zealand, but the vast majority of print and broadcast media ownership is private. Australian-owned companies control a substantial portion of the print sector. Fairfax Media Limited boasts almost 48 percent of 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 another Australian firm, APN News & Media. TVNZ has promoted increasing collaboration with the subscription network Sky TV and its free-to-air channel, Prime TV. Another rival, the MediaWorks group, which owns TV3, was given a controversial preferential payment arrangement in 2011 for NZ$43 million (US$34.9 million) in radio frequency fees. Meanwhile, the government-funded Māori Television continues to develop strongly, with its second channel, Te Reo, broadcasting in the indigenous Māori language. In 2011, the New Zealand Press Association cooperative closed after 132 years as the national news agency. However, publishers such as APN and Fairfax have launched a number of new services in an attempt to fill the gap. There are no government restrictions on the internet, which was accessed by nearly 90 percent of the population in 2012.