New Zealand: Cyber bullying bill passes Parliament with massive majority

AGORA moderator's picture

Concerns about freedom of expression and media freedom were raised in Parliament today as MPs passed the controversial Harmful Digital Communications Bill.

The bill passed 116 votes to five, with ACT's David Seymour and, in a rare move, four Green MPs, the only ones to vote against it.

The Greens decided to split their vote, with Gareth Hughes, Russel Norman, Julie Anne Genter and Steffan Browning voting against because they were concerned it could have a "chilling effect" on freedom of speech.

The bill came about after the Roastbusters case and recommendations made by the Law Commisision in 2012.

It aims to reduce harm and protect victims of cyber bullying and online harassment.

The bill introduces a new offence of inciting someone to attempt to commit suicide - even if they don't go through with it - that will be punishable by up to three years imprisonment.

An agency, likely to be Netsafe, will be given the role of monitoring online harm. It already deals with about 800 complaints a year.

Mr Hughes told Parliament the bill could see people use it to bully and take down opinions in "vexatious and litigious" ways if they didn't like something posted on media websites or blogs.

The bill means the host of a website can only be taken to court for comments on the website if they knew they were wrong and causing offence.

But it does mean, for instance, things that are posted on a website can be punishable, but not if they appear in a newspaper.

Labour MP Jacinda Adern said her party felt "wedged" on the issue.

Many MPs acknowledged there were flaws with the bill.

Justice Minister Amy Adams has promised if problems arise with the law, it will be reviewed.

SOURCE: TVNZ, 30/06/2015,