THE final report in the Convergence Review has concluded current media regulation in Australia is ineffective and has recommended a new two-tier system.
In its final 177-page report released last month, the committee detailed recommendations to government for new media regulation and ownership rules.
The Newspaper Works has cautioned against accepting a heavy-handed framework of content regulation as such far-reaching powers would undermine the concept of self-regulation that is also promoted by the Convergence Review, and threatens press freedom.
The report recommended firstly, an industry-led body to oversee journalism standards across all platforms.
Secondly, there should be a new statutory regulator replacing the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
The so-called “Communications Regulator” would operate “at arm’s length from government direction, except in a limited range of specified matters”.
The Communications Regulator would approve industry codes or standards, define complaints procedures, direct enforcement in situations of breach, order the industry body to conduct an investigation and implement a range of “effective remedies to ensure compliance”.
It is unclear what these “effective remedies” might include.
The Regulator would also certify whether complaints systems, privacy controls and other measures in industry codes meet best practice standards.
The self-regulatory industry body would develop and enforce a media code across all platforms: print, digital, radio and TV.
“There is no justification for news and commentary to be subject to different systems for complaints and enforcement depending on the platform on which it is delivered,” the report stated.
Current regulatory bodies and standards are varied and technology-specific.
The review recommended all “content service providers” be required to join the industry body.
“The current Australian Press Council regime where members can opt out or reduce funding is not an acceptable situation,” it stated.
Newspaper publishers’ standards are currently administered by the Australian Press Council, which recently underwent reforms to make standards legally binding and withdrawing membership a four-year process.
The new body would ultimately absorb the roles of the Australian Press Council and the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
The report recommended it have credible sanctions and the power to order members to prominently publish its findings.
Funding for the body would mostly come from its members but the government should make a financial contribution.
The recommended new regulation would apply to “content service providers”.
They are defined as having control of the content they deliver, meeting a threshold of a large number of Australian users and meeting a threshold of a high level of revenue from that content.
Thresholds would be set at a high level to exclude small and emerging content providers, and would be determined by the Communications Regulator under the recommendations.
Currently, around 15 media operators would be classified as content service enterprises.
“This modelling suggests that currently only existing broadcasters and the larger newspaper publishers would qualify as content service enterprises,” the report stated.
Content from social media, including bloggers and user generated content, would be free from the new regulation.
After three years, the Communications Regulator plans to assess the effectiveness of the new system and the industry body may continue as is, but requirements for membership may be adjusted or alternatively, the body may be dissolved.
The final report also commented on the Independent Media Inquiry’s recommendation to establish a statutory authority; the News Media Council, to regulate all media platforms.
The review recommended an approach based on an industry-led body for news standards rather than a statutory authority. It said the statutory authority should remain a position of “last resort available to government”.
The Australian government will now consider whether the proposed recommendations should be implemented as legislation.
The Convergence Review was set up by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy in 2011 to examine media regulation in Australia and assess its effectiveness in a converged era. He is yet to comment on the particulars of the report.
“The release of the report provides an opportunity for stakeholders to engage with the Committee’s recommendations. I expect the recommendations will generate robust public debate. The government will respond to the report in due course,” said Mr Conroy.
The Convergence Review was chaired by former IBM Australia chief Glen Boreham. Its committee consulted with industry leaders, and received 340 written submissions and 28,000 comments.
It can be accessed in full here.