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Digital media and the internet

by Russell Brown

With the internet New Zealanders can overcome their geographical isolation – they can connect to the rest of the world with a click of a mouse. The internet has changed how most Kiwis do business, shop, socialise and find information.

New Zealanders’ use of the internet

New Zealanders' use of the internet has long been amongst the highest in the world. How the internet is used is continually changing, but the medium has created a revolution in how people communicate. Although much of the country's internet traffic is to international sources, it is also served by a variety of local media.

The audience

The 2013 survey by the World Internet Project, which has its New Zealand base at AUT University, found that 92% of New Zealanders aged 16 and above used the internet and 73% considered that the internet was important in their everyday life. More than four of every five internet users surfed the web for at least an hour every day at home. Only 2% of internet users remained on dial-up connections.

Usage was partly a reflection of age. In 2011, 98% of young New Zealanders (aged 12 to 29) used the internet, while only 68% of New Zealanders over the age of 60 did so. Usage in 2013 was no longer strongly related to household income (except in the case of those using smartphones and tablets). Ethnicity and area of residence no longer have as strong a correlation with internet usage as they did when the surveys began in 2007. By 2013 usage in rural areas was close to the average and greater than in small towns. The spread of internet into schools and libraries also increased accessibility.

Māori and Pacific people showed the greatest increase in internet usage, with 86% of those groups being internet users in 2011, up from 70% in 2007. In 2009 two-thirds of Māori and Pacific respondents said the internet contributed to keeping their languages alive. By 2013 Asian New Zealanders were the most engaged users and Pacific people the least.

Dual screeners

According to a Google study in 2012 New Zealanders increasingly consumed digital media at the same time as they were using another medium – especially television. Of regular internet users, 85% were ‘dual screeners’.

Mobile devices

Since 2007 there has been a striking increase in the use of cell phones and tablets such as iPads to access the internet. In 2011 there were 1.9 million mobile internet connections, with the percentage of users accessing the internet on handheld devices rising to 27% (compared with 7% in 2007). By 2013 over two-thirds of users accessed the internet on phones, and almost half on tablets. The effect was that more than half of New Zealanders were using the internet from communal areas of their homes, rather than from studies or bedrooms, and people were consulting the web while sitting in cafes, travelling on buses or waiting in queues.


Growth in the number of internet domain names registered under .nz has slowed to around 10% a year. In 2013, that growth took the total number of .nz registrations past half a million. By far the most popular second-level domain (2LD) is .co, but the Domain Name Commission also permits a number of uniquely New Zealand 2LDs, including .iwi and .maori.

The early days of the internet, 1990s

Usenet newsgroups

The first digital publications by and for New Zealanders were the Usenet newsgroups under the ‘nz.’ hierarchy, beginning with nz.general and nz.netstatus, which were created in 1985, after Victoria University of Wellington established a dial-up connection to the international Usenet service. It would be another four years before New Zealand got its first permanent connection to the global internet, at the University of Waikato.

The first newsgroups were created without discussion, simply because there was no one to discuss them with. Other groups, including nz.politics and nz.soc.queer, followed over the years.

Although Usenet was largely supplanted by web-based forums, and then social media sites, to become a historical curiosity for most New Zealanders, it was the first taste of internet culture for many. In 1997, years before he launched the well-known Kiwiblog, David Farrar successfully proposed the nz.reg hierarchy of regional newsgroups.

Student pioneer

From 1990, working during university holidays, Nat Torkington had begun exploring the web. He became part of the WWW Talk mailing list discussing the nature of the web with Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessen (founder of the first browser, Mosaic). He also put together the first World Wide Web frequently asked questions list which was reproduced around the globe. Torkington explained: ‘That’s the great thing about the Web … nobody knows you’re a dog, and nobody knows you’re an undergraduate from New Zealand … the first people into a technology become the gurus and it doesn’t matter where they are.’1

Early days of the web

The concept and tools of the World Wide Web were first launched onto the world by Tim Berners-Lee in August 1991. His idea was that, through a browser program, a user could enter a domain address (or URL) and find a website. Within each site pages could be hyperlinked to other web pages. The first operating website in the world was created in 1991. New Zealand’s first website, directory created by Nat Torkington for Victoria University, appeared the next year. Torkington also ran the web server that hosted the page.

Although a few local websites – Mark Proffitt's Akiko, Rob Cawte's Web Workshop and Bruce Simpson's Aardvark – made independent forays into online publishing in the early 1990s, mainstream media content was initially available only away from the public internet, on Compuserve and, to a much lesser degree, Apple's eWorld Service.

Xtra-large X-Ville

When Xtra launched in 1996 its X-Ville homepage, created by Telecom's Brisbane subsidiary Digital Video Productions, was controversial. Modelled on the home screen of Apple's eWorld, it weighed in at 135KB – a trifle at today's internet speeds, but a roadblock for users in the mid-1990s. Behind it lay news, entertainment and feature content that represented Telecom's first real foray into media.

1996: the web takes off

In the mid-1990s computers were still a luxury item, and in 1995 only 21.7% of households had one. One survey claimed in 1996 that only one in five New Zealanders had heard of the internet. Those who accessed it were overwhelmingly male and aged 20 to 39.

But things changed fast. As it became easier to get online and more affordable to stay there, the number of sites increased. In 1994, the total of .nz registered sites was 272. The number jumped to 701 in 1995 and then to 3,627 in 1996.

1996 proved to be a pivotal year:

  • Information technology weekly Computerworld became the first print newspaper to hire dedicated online editorial staff and publish daily news at
  • Two low-key staff initiatives – one at the Department of Internal Affairs, the other at the Ministry of Commerce – combined to launch the first New Zealand government website at
  • In November the National Business Review launched NBR Business Centre Online, a labyrinthine offering of newsfeeds and databases targeted at paying subscribers.
  • On 1 May Telecom launched its long-awaited consumer internet service provider (ISP), Xtra. Months later Clear Communications' Clearnet ISP launched with similar content offerings.

False starts

In a sphere defined by rapid change, few first efforts endured. Radio New Zealand's first presence was a private venture by Michael Sutton of Wellington, who licensed the public broadcaster's signal and delivered it over the internet from 1997 until 2001, when the licence was not renewed.

In May 1999, less than two-and-a-half years and one major redesign since launch, the National Business Review closed its website. Its publisher, Barry Colman, explained that the paper would focus on providing electronic publishing services to other sites. The New Zealand Herald's online launch in 1998 replaced a now-forgotten early version. Similarly the Stuff news site, when launched in 2001, absorbed the existing websites of the Dominion's Infotech Weekly supplement and The Press of Christchurch. Television New Zealand's NZoom web portal, an ambitious venture created in 2000 as a stand-alone company, was shut down and folded back into its parent just three years later.



Trade Me

In 1999 a young man, Sam Morgan, founded Trade Me – a web venture that would have more impact on the local media industry than any other. In most countries the US-based eBay dominates the online auction business, but in New Zealand the locally founded Trade Me became the big player – and all by word of mouth, without advertising. According to Nielsen Online Ratings, in 2013 Trade Me was the most popular New Zealand-based website, with more than 1.8 million individual users every month, and the fourth most-visited by New Zealanders overall, behind Google, Facebook and YouTube.

Quick fortune

Sam Morgan started Trade Me in 1999 at the age of 24. Seven years later, in 2006, Trade Me was sold to the Australian-based media company Fairfax for NZ$700 million. Morgan received $227 million. The site was listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange in December 2011, and Fairfax sold the last of its stake in Trade Me a year later. Morgan, having fulfilled a contractual commitment to continue to manage Trade Me, became an investor and philanthropist.

Although Trade Me's rise is seen as having harmed the profitability of newspapers – by taking away classified advertising revenue – Trade Me is a media organisation in itself. The Trade Me Community message board is the country's largest community-moderated discussion forum. On at least one occasion Morgan was personally contacted by a judge concerned that a court suppression order might be flouted on the often-unruly forums.

Employment and real estate

Trade Me achieved success, not only in online auctions, but also in real estate and employment listings. Here it competed successfully with the specialised sites which had emerged. In the employment area Seek had over 16,000 jobs advertised in October 2013, while real estate sites ranged from those of established agents such as Harcourts (which had over 11,000 listings) to generic sites such as A big advantage real estate websites had over traditional advertising methods was the ability to show multiple images of every house.


Apart from Trade Me, the most popular New Zealand-based commercial sites were banks. ASB opened the first online banking system in 1997 and by 2000 all major New Zealand banks had followed. By 2013, 77% of internet users were logging on to their internet banking accounts at least once a week. Increasingly, New Zealanders were also paying bills over the internet (81% did so). Banks responded to the situation by reducing the number of their counter tellers.


In 1996 Air New Zealand issued its first electronic ticket and by 1999 a million such tickets had been issued. From 2002 the airline promoted online booking aggressively and other travel operators such as New Zealand Rail and travel agents followed suit. In 2011 about 65% of internet users booked travel over the web. People planning travel increasingly used sites that compared prices, such as Expedia and webjet.


Internet booking of entertainment such as sporting fixtures or concerts began seriously with Ticketek’s establishment of an online membership database and personalised log-in in January 2000.

Music began to be purchased online in place of compact discs (CDs) with the emergence of Apple’s iPod portable music player in the first few years of the century. Ebooks came some years later, especially with the appearance in New Zealand in 2010 of Kindle readers. The effect of these technologies was that most music and increasing quantities of literature were purchased from major North American outlets such as Apple and Amazon. By 2013 two-thirds of internet users downloaded or listened to music online; 15% did so daily.

How to be number 1

In September 2013 the 16 year old Auckland singer Ella Yelich-O’Connor, better known as Lorde, achieved the number 1 single in the United States with her song ‘Royals’. Her success was in large part achieved through clever use of websites – SoundCloud and YouTube – on which she posted her music, her own website (, iTunes, Facebook and Twitter.

Younger New Zealanders began to spend more time playing games online. Among those aged 12 to 19, 84% of internet users did so in 2011. By 2013 people rated television and the internet as equally valuable sources of entertainment; significantly higher than radio.


Younger New Zealanders were less likely to have a credit card which restricted their ability to shop online. But about 80% of New Zealanders aged 20 to 59 regularly shopped online in 2011. Purchases ranged from electronic equipment through to clothes for which firms like Ezibuy, originally a mail-order operation, emerged as online retailers. By the 2000s it had become possible to do supermarket shopping on the web.


The development of these forms of e-commerce in New Zealand had major social impacts. Many retail outlets began to suffer and even disappear from the cities and towns of the country – second-hand shops, travel agents, CD stores, and even bookshops.


The rise of e-commerce had a major impact upon the advertising revenue of print publications, especially newspapers, encouraging them to move online. In addition the ability of the internet to provide coverage of an event very quickly was a major advantage for online news publication. The 2013 World Internet Project survey found that 81% of New Zealanders regarded the internet as an important source of information – significantly higher than for television (47%), print newspapers (37%), and radio (37%). This figure rose markedly after 2007.

What’s in a name?

The name Stuff was proposed for INL’s news website by advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi. INL had to buy the corresponding domain name from a company that had already registered it.

Media sites rank highly among New Zealand websites. Traditional media companies are prominently represented. The Stuff website was set up in 2000 by Independent Newspapers Limited (INL) as an online brand for its 10 daily newspapers, two Sunday newspapers and 55 community newspapers. By 2020 it was the most popular New Zealand website.

The New Zealand Herald's website, begun in 1998, reaches a far larger audience than the Auckland-based paper's print edition.

Video and print

The boundaries between different forms of media have broken down. While both Stuff and the Herald have dedicated teams producing video for their websites, Television New Zealand and Mediaworks' TV3 provide written news stories, blogs and other content via the internet, in addition to their video fare. Both broadcasters offer local and international programmes on demand via the internet, as does Sky Television, whose skygo service is available only to Sky subscribers.


According to Nielsen Online Ratings, in 2013 the news site most visited by New Zealanders was Stuff, which aggregated Fairfax Media's newspapers and attracted nearly 1.3 million individual visitors monthly. Its chief rival was the New Zealand Herald website, whose monthly audience was just under a million, although the regional network sites of Herald publisher APN attracted an additional 200,000.

Although localised versions of Yahoo and MSN news sites attracted many thousands of visitors, the only other locally-generated news website in the Top 10 was Mediaworks' 3 News, which had a monthly audience of around 210,000. (Television New Zealand's news website received around 190,000).

There were some important independent news websites. The privately owned Scoop functioned in part as a national noticeboard, publishing press releases verbatim – a model which accelerated the move within Parliament to publish releases and statements digitally. Scoop was used by more than 100,000 New Zealanders monthly in 2013, and the website of the country's largest locally-owned newspaper, Allied Press's Otago Daily Times, had a similar audience. The National Business Review had a smaller audience but was significant for pioneering a ‘paywall’ model for subscriber access. In 2020 the NBR went digital-only.


Radio New Zealand International, which broadcasts to the Pacific, had a website from 1995. From 1997 to 2001 Michael Sutton delivered Radio New Zealand National's broadcasts via the web under licence, and an official Radio New Zealand website was created in 1998. Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero (later Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision) launched a website in the same year. But only in 2005, after dedicated website funding was granted, was a substantial Radio New Zealand site launched. In 2013 broadcast shows were streamed live and made available on demand as podcasts. The site hosted around 4,000 hours of archived audio content, including drama and New Zealand music features, and was the country's leading radio website.

In the 2010s Radio Live, Newstalk ZB and others published news online, and niche music stations such as 95bFM, George FM and Base FM reach audiences beyond their broadcast catchments with their internet streams.

Online exposure

In 2012 the video for pop artist Kimbra's song 'Good intent' notched up around 4.5 million views online – far more than it would ever have enjoyed on television.

NZ On Air

NZ On Air, the government agency that manages contestable funding for broadcasting, includes the internet in its funding strategy. In the agency’s music-video funding, television play has diminished as a measure of success by comparison with online play.

The agency also funds, a discovery website for emerging artists, and contributes to the cost of interactive applications developed by commercial radio stations.

NZ On Air also backs heritage projects, most notably NZ On Screen, which presents hundreds of hours of New Zealand film and television work, and AudioCulture, which describes itself as ‘the noisy library of New Zealand music’.

A Digital Media Fund allocates funding for new digital-only projects. Early rounds of two digital funding schemes were hugely over-subscribed.

Blogs and satire

There were editorial ventures that met the description of a weblog, or blog, long before the term was used. One of the earliest, Bruce Simpson's Aardvark, began providing technology news and commentary in 1995.

Read Write Web

Read Write Web, which covered technology developments, was launched by Lower Hutt resident Richard MacManus in 2003. It employed multiple authors and became one of New Zealand’s most widely read and influential blogs. It was syndicated to the New York Times and by 2008 was ranked the 9th most popular blog in the world, with 1.6 million page views a month. McManus sold his site to United States company SAY media in 2011, and in 2012 it was rebranded as ReadWrite.

18th-century style, 21st-century success

Denis Dutton, a professor at the University of Canterbury, began a portal of interesting humanities content on the web in 1998. The design of Arts & Letters daily mimicked an 18th-century broadsheet, with three columns: ‘Articles of Note’, ‘New Books’, ‘Essays and opinion’. The site was rapidly very successful and by 2005 was attracting 2.5 million page views a month. It was eventually sold to the US Chronicle of Higher Education.

Political blogs

Most local attention – and traffic – goes to blogs concerned with politics. In 2013 the two most popular, Whale Oil Beef Hooked (usually known as Whale Oil) and Kiwiblog, served the political right; while two group blogs, The Standard and The Daily Blog, offered a left-wing perspective.

The Public Address group of blogs took a liberal stance, but often ventured beyond politics to music, culture, sport and sexuality. Wellington constitutional lawyer Graeme Edgeler became a media expert on electoral law via his Legal Beagle blog on the Public Address site. The main news sites, such as Stuff, also set up blogs.

No political blog has been more consistently controversial than Whale Oil, whose founder, Cameron Slater, was convicted in 2010 of eight charges of breaching name suppression orders and one of naming a victim in a sexual abuse case. In 2014 Nicky Hager, in his book Dirty politics used communications taken from Slater's website by an unnamed hacker to allege co-operation between Slater and the National government in attacking political rivals. The fallout from the book saw two official inquiries ordered and the resignation of Justice Minister Judith Collins, a friend of Slater’s, in the midst of the 2014 election campaign, but did no apparent harm to John Key's government, which won the election.

Special interest blogs

A number of special-interest blogs were influential. TransportBlog covered Auckland’s transport and planning issues, Throng carried talk about popular television and SciBlogs, maintained by the Science Media Centre, aggregated the country's best science blogs.

In 2014 New Zealand's largest specialist blog site was Geekzone, which was launched in 2003 by Wellington IT worker Mauricio Freitas and became a technology blogging community that attracted nearly 300,000 visitors each month, nearly half of them from outside New Zealand.

Blogs achieved acknowledgement by the media establishment in 2007, when Public Address founder Russell Brown won the Qantas Media Awards' new Best Blog award for Hard News. Apart from 2008, when Richard McManus and his Read Write Web were honoured, the award went to blogs on established news media websites until 2014, when Cameron Slater and Whale Oil received the blogging award at the renamed Canon Media Awards for breaking a controversial news story about Auckland mayor Len Brown's extramarital affair.

Welcome to The Civilian

In launching The Civilian, Ben Uffindell wrote: ‘My name is Ben Uffindell, and I was once the Vice Chancellor of the University of Canterbury. I involuntarily relinquished that position two years ago following an unfortunate incident involving a panda … Several months ago, however, I came upon a small, promising but possibly illegal business venture that allowed me to accrue enough funds to return to life in a moderately well equipped apartment building in the heart of our nation’s cultural capital, Greymouth. It was from here that I decided to spite my wife by doing the one thing she told me that I could never do: start a newspaper.’1


Contemporary digital media offered a platform for satire, a genre not always welcome in established publications.

Bloggers Danyl Mclauchlan (The Dim-Post) and Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish) and Scoop news site reporter Lyndon Hood wrote in the best traditions of New Zealand satire. In 2013, 22-year-old Christchurch man Ben Uffindell launched The Civilian, a satirical ‘newspaper’ that vaulted into the news after Conservative Party leader Colin Craig threatened legal action over quotes attributed to him in a satirical article published on the site.


Social media


The first use of digital media for social communication was email, which became widespread in the 1990s. By 2013, 99% of internet users checked their email regularly and 89% did so every day. Email had a drastic impact on the use of postal services. By 2013 New Zealand Post was considering reducing postal services to three days a week and was carrying 265 million fewer items than 10 years earlier. However, in 2013 email was a less common way of contacting people than meeting them in person, phoning or texting. Email was significantly less popular for people under 30, who preferred texting.

Facebook or Twitter holidays

By the 2010s some New Zealanders were so addicted to using social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter that they felt the need to advertise that they were taking a Facebook or Twitter holiday – when they stopped posting for a day or so – for fear their followers might think something serious had happened to them.

Social networking sites

From about 2002 the development of technologies, often called Web 2.0, allowed greater social interaction on the web. This took the form of enabling users to contribute to, and comment on, websites, and the emergence of social networking sites.

It was not until about 2007 that such sites really took off in New Zealand, but by 2013 80% of internet users were members of a social network site. Of these, 87% said that Facebook was their site of preference. According to an October 2012 poll, 76% of New Zealanders aged 18 or over were on Facebook and three-fifths of them used Facebook at least once a day. Of respondents, 29% were on professional networking site LinkedIn. Women used the sites slightly more than men. Social networking was especially popular for those aged under 30 (of which 87% were users), while only a third of those aged over 60 networked in this way.

By August 2013 New Zealanders were spending an average of 7.43 hours a month on social networking sites. This was more than in Australia and the United States, and represented New Zealanders’ greatest use of the internet by time (one in five internet minutes).

Top twits

Based on New Zealand followers, the most popular tweeters in 2013 were Paolo Feliciano (a Filipino student in Otago), the All Blacks, Adam Hendra (a young poet and writer), Jonathon Gunson (a popular novelist), John Key (prime minister), New Zealand Herald, Bosco Peters (who runs a liturgical website), Justin Boyce (who blogs about working from home), Hishan Abdulla (author of a book on personal development) and Air New Zealand’s grabaseat.

Over a quarter of internet users had made new friends or met new partners online. At least some of these meetings would have been through internet dating sites such as FindSomeone and NZDating.


In the 2010s Twitter, which provided users with the ability to post short messages of 140 characters or less to their followers, became more popular in New Zealand. By October 2012 almost 20% of people aged 18 or over were using Twitter, an increase of more than 50% from the previous year. Many New Zealand journalists became active on Twitter, and often ‘scooped’ their own publications by reporting breaking news via social media before filing their stories. John Campbell, host of TV3's Campbell Live, had nearly 50,000 Twitter followers in 2013 – but remained behind New Zealand's most popular tweeter, Ruby on Rails software developer Michael Koziarsky.


The Twitter hashtag #eqnz, which came to symbolise the first quake and the thousands that followed, was coined by an Australian-based user within half an hour of the event. By dawn, it had been adopted by most users as the default hashtag. Official agencies, after initially proposing their own tags, quickly fell into line with the crowd's choice.

The Canterbury earthquakes and social media

When a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Canterbury early in the morning of 4 September 2010, it was first reported to the world by local Twitter and Facebook users. Foreign news media were publishing pictures from these residents before most New Zealanders were even aware of the quake. Social media – Twitter, Facebook and blogs – played a key role both in reporting subsequent quakes, especially the more destructive February 2011 quake, and in the community response.

Later, the University of Canterbury established the CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquake Digital Archive. This was a comprehensive archive including personal accounts, videos, oral histories and digitised copies of every edition of The Press from 4 September 2010 to 2 February 2012.


The most popular website used by New Zealanders in 2013 was the Google search engine. Searching for information was the second most popular use of the web after social networking. In the 1990s the web was poorly regarded as a source of information, but by 2011 the internet was believed to be more important as an information source than television, radio, newspapers, other people and community services such as libraries.


In May 2000 the New Zealand government issued a vision statement for e-government that ‘New Zealanders will be able to gain access to government information and services, and participate in our democracy, using the Internet, telephones and other technologies as they emerge.’1 Over the next decade there were huge developments in making government information available on the web – from regulations about such matters as immigration, fisheries, taxes or national parks, to making available the country’s official map series. Policy documents were routinely made available on agencies’ sites.

Under the New Zealand government open access and licensing framework (NZGOAL) issued in 2010, departments were encouraged to release Crown copyright work and non-copyright material for re-use by others.

In the 2010s there were growing opportunities to transact government business through the internet, including obtaining a new passport and submitting a tax return.

Educational and historical material

Many public agencies worked to make available scientific datasets and historical information that could be used for educational and research purposes. These included such resources as:

  • Papers Past, hosted by the National Library of New Zealand, which by 2013 provided searchable digitised copies of three million pages from 83 newspapers covering the years 1839 to 1945
  • Digital New Zealand, a huge database of New Zealand resources
  • searchable collections of historical images from the National Library, Auckland City Libraries, Puke Ariki, Christchurch City Libraries and the Hocken Library
  • Auckland Museum’s Cenotaph database of 115,000 men and women who served for New Zealand, especially in the world wars, which was linked to digitised copies of personnel files in Archives New Zealand’s Archway site
  • Landcare Research’s database of New Zealand plants, Ngā tipu o Aotearoa
  • digitised copies of the New Zealand Official Yearbook and the Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives
  • libraries of older New Zealand publications digitised by Victoria University’s New Zealand Electronic Text Collection and the University of Auckland Library.

In addition public sites had brought together information about New Zealand for both general users and students. They included:

  • Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, which included the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, and NZHistory, a major resource of material on New Zealand history, both of which were published by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage
  • The Prow, an encyclopedia of the Nelson and Marlborough regions
  • the Department of Conservation’s website, which included extensive information about the flora, fauna and public lands of the country
  • Te Kete Ipurangi, a resource of educational materials for schools.


Many of these collections and reference sites drew on analogue images which had been digitised. In addition, the emergence of digital cameras made a very large body of born-digital images available on the web. Many New Zealanders made their digital photography available on sites such as Flickr.


Law and regulation

Technology and Crimes Reform Bill 1995

The first attempt to legislate for internet content in New Zealand was the Technology and Crimes Reform Bill 1995, introduced by National MP Trevor Rogers. The bill created new offences for misuse of telephone lines to transmit objectionable material and prohibited communication with foreign telecommunication services hosting ‘objectionable’ images. The bill required internet service providers (ISPs) to cut off links to foreign websites on the order of the Office of Film and Literature Classification. The bill was defeated in Parliament.

Swift response

The reaction of the nascent internet sector to the proposed 1995 bill was swift and hostile. John Houlker, manager of what was then New Zealand's sole internet gateway at the University of Waikato, threatened to sever the country's link to the global internet if the bill was passed on the basis that it would be legally untenable for the university to continue to operate its network.

Internet content has largely been addressed by laws passed in the early 1990s, before the internet was in popular use – most notably, the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 and the Copyright Act 1994. Where necessary, laws were amended to take account of the internet. For example, the Customs and Excise Act 1996 was amended to include the downloading of objectionable material from an overseas website in the definition of ‘importing’ such material.

Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act 2008

The most controversial measure was the Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Act 2008, which sparked a battle between rights owners, including music and media companies, and a more diffuse group informally led by the internet governance body InternetNZ. Opposition focused on Section 92A, which opponents said could disconnect internet users on the mere allegation of downloading copyrighted material without permission.


The response to the proposed 2008 act was a so-called ‘blackout’ protest, which saw thousands of individuals replace their websites and social media avatars with black panels to symbolise what they viewed as the implications of the law.

The government withdrew Section 92A. It was eventually replaced with the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act 2011, which allowed copyright owners to notify ISPs, which in turn warn the users. After three such warnings the copyright owner could take a case to the Copyright Tribunal, which could impose fines of up to $15,000. A provision for disconnection as a penalty was dormant until an order in council was made by the governor-general on the recommendation of the minister of justice.


The issue of copyright infringement on a massive scale was brought home to New Zealand when the German digital entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, who had been granted residence in New Zealand, was arrested on the basis of US charges that his company had cost the entertainment industry US$500 million by having pirated files on the Megaupload site. He was freed on bail and subsequently New Zealand’s High Court decided that the warrant used to arrest him was invalid.


Media regulation and standards have struggled to keep up with change. New Zealand's only statutory regulator, the Broadcasting Standards Authority, has jurisdiction over content broadcast on television and radio, but not over the same content transmitted via the internet. The New Zealand Press Council has jurisdiction over material published by its members in any medium other than broadcast, but not material – most notably, the work of bloggers – published outside the established news media.

In a 2013 report the New Zealand Law Commission called for an independent news regulator, subsuming both the Broadcasting Standards Authority and the Press Council, and with a ‘consistent set of news media standards’ to adjudicate complaints. Media organisations who made themselves subject to the regulator – including independent publishers and bloggers – would enjoy various legal exemptions and privileges. Membership would also be a condition of receiving funding for factual programming from NZ On Air, the government agency responsible for funding broadcasting.

Shortly before the report’s release, the country's major television and radio broadcasters announced the formation of the Online Media Standards Authority (OMSA), which would handle standards complaints about their online content. The Law Commission proposed that OMSA be replaced by its merged regulator. In 2014 the minister of justice was considering these recommendations.


As in other countries, New Zealand courts have found no protection for defamatory statements simply because they are made on the internet rather than in mainstream media. The most-frequently cited case was O'Brien v Brown (2001), in which Patrick O’Brien, the chief executive of the national domain name registrar Domainz, successfully sued Alan Brown, owner of an internet service provider (ISP) for defamatory statements he made on internet forums operated by Domainz's owner, the Internet Society of New Zealand.

How to cite this page: Russell Brown, 'Digital media and the internet', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 8 December 2023)

Story by Russell Brown, published 22 Oct 2014