Updating Australia's media laws
The Government has announced a series of reforms to Australia’s media laws including most recently the Broadcasting and Content Reform Package. The media laws below will support the viability of our local organisations as they face increasing global competition in a rapidly changing digital landscape.
Why are we changing the media laws?
Australia's media ownership laws were drafted during an analogue era before the internet, when the media landscape was dominated by print newspapers and commercial radio and TV services.
Advances in technology now allow digital content from anywhere in the world to be accessed instantly through computers, smartphones or smart TVs. These new options have changed the way we consume media in Australia and have intensified competition between media outlets.
In this digital environment, Australia's ownership laws prevent traditional media outlets such as TV, radio and newspapers from structuring their businesses efficiently or achieving the scale necessary to adapt and compete more effectively with newer unregulated services.
To bring our media ownership laws into the digital era, the Government has announced the most significant reforms to Australian media regulation in a generation.
What are the reforms?
Under the reforms, the Government will repeal two media control and ownership rules in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 that currently prevent a person from controlling:
- commercial television licences that collectively reach in excess of 75 per cent of the Australian population (the '75 per cent audience reach rule'); and
- more than two of the three regulated forms of media (commercial radio, commercial TV and associated newspapers) in the one commercial radio licence area (the '2 out of 3 rule').
In addition, the Government will introduce changes that will protect and enhance the amount of local television content in regional Australia as well as introducing an incentive for local content to be filmed in the local area.
The Government is maintaining other diversity rules including the '5/4' rule, the ‘one-to-a-market' rule or the 'two-to-a-market' rule. Changes to the anti-siphoning list are not part of this package.
How will the reforms protect local content?
Currently, the Government uses a points system to ensure that larger regional communities have access to local content, such as news broadcasts. Regional Queensland, Northern New South Wales, Southern New South Wales, Regional Victoria and Tasmania are all subject to local content obligations where broadcasters must produce at least 720 points of local content per six week period (each minute is worth one point, or two points if it is local news).
To address concerns that changes to media ownership rules could reduce the amount of local content, the reforms will increase the required amount of local content points to 900, for the same period. These requirements will come into effect following a 'trigger event', or change in control of a regional commercial television licence, that results in it being in a group whose combined licence area populations exceeds 75 per cent of the Australian population.
The changes will also introduce obligations on commercial television broadcasters in smaller markets including Darwin, Mildura, Griffith and Broken Hill, as well as markets in South Australia and Western Australia, which are not currently subject to local content obligations. In these markets, broadcasters will be required to provide at least 360 points (minutes) of local content.
In addition the reforms will provide a new 'local filming' incentive which will provide three points for every minute of local news that is also filmed in the local area. The new points structure will strengthen the link between local content and local communities.
But aren't the existing laws designed to ensure media diversity?
Digital technologies now provide easy access to domestic or international news content through networked devices. In fact, the digital age is now defined by the wide range of media voices and perspectives available to consumers. In this environment, protections such as the '2 out of 3 rule' are no longer needed but some protections will still remain.
The reforms will keep the requirement for at least five independent media 'voices' in metropolitan commercial radio licence areas (mainland state capital cities), and at least four in regional commercial radio licence areas. In addition, an individual will still not be able to control more than one commercial television licence in a licence area or more than two commercial radio licences in the same licence area.
When will the changes happen?
A previous version of the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform Bill) 2016 (the Bill) was introduced into the 44th Parliament in March 2016. The Senate referred the Bill to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. While the Bill lapsed when Parliament was dissolved prior to the July 2016 federal election the Committee continued is inquiry and released its report on 5 May 2016.
The Bill was re-introduced in the 45th Parliament on 1 September 2016.
Subject to the passage of amending legislation, the new media reform measures will commence in 2017. Licensees would not be required to meet the new local content obligations until six months following a trigger event, giving them time to prepare for the changes.