Media Reforms – Regulatory Controls on Online Media Unjustified

Yesterday the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator the Hon  Stephen Conroy, announced a package of reforms in response to the Convergence Review and Finkelstein Inquiry and imposed a less than two week deadline for the Parliament to support the Press Council and Public Interest Test reforms.

While the IIA supports an approach that promotes media diversity, we question the effectiveness of creating yet another regulator in the form of the Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA).

“A more effective way of creating competition and diversity, particularly on-line through digital media, would be to provide better incentives for investment that promotes and encourages a greater diversity of voices across a variety of new platforms and applications,” said Peter Lee, Chief Executive of the Internet Industry Association (IIA).

“Online is one of the most diverse and growing national and international platforms that exists: diversity should not be enforced by over regulation.”

The IIA is sceptical about expanding regulation of online media without clear evidence that such regulation is required and also imposing additional cost to online media because those with an significant audience reach of >60,000 per day (however that may be measured) will need to pay membership to support a “Press Standards” style body.
Senator Conroy indicated that there is currently two existing mechanisms in place that address competition law and foreign ownership restrictions, but that they don’t address or reflect the full question of ‘public interest’ for media acquisitions.

These proposed reforms overlook the media diversity controls that already exist in Division 5A of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. It is not clear why these controls have failed and/or why it is necessary to bring the very diverse and rich array of online services under further regulatory control.

Rather than creating yet another regulatory body [PIMA] within the communications sector, the Government should consider utilising existing bodies such as the ACCC, the TIO and the ACMA by expanding their roles in relation to these proposed reforms. Any such regulatory body should be totally independent of the government of the day to ensure that the government does not use its power over the regulator to control outcomes or garner support.

As in most cases, the devil is in the detail and until the proposed legislation is tabled it is difficult to fully understand the implications of the proposed reforms. Important particulars such as the criteria and processes to be used for any public interest test could have a significant impact on the continued growth of on-line media and diversity.

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