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Convergence Review Interim Report recommends sweeping changes to Australian media and communications regulation

The Interim Report of the Convergence Review, released last week, proposes far-reaching reform of the regulation of Australian media and communications services.  The Report’s recommendations would harmonise regulation across platforms, extend content regulation beyond its traditional press and broadcast silos and impose significant new obligations on online content providers.

Background

The Convergence Review was established by the Federal Government in December 2010 to consider how regulation of media and communications should be updated in light of the convergence of old media technologies with the internet and the need for regulation to promote competition, open access, innovation, media diversity and the creation of Australian content.

The release of the Interim Report follows public consultation on a series of background and discussion papers published by the Review over the course of 2011.

A converged regulatory framework

 

The Interim Report foreshadows a highly ambitious package of regulatory reform including:

  • creating an independent content and communications regulator with broad and flexible powers to make and enforce regulation on issues across the digital economy;
  • empowering the new regulator to oversee and determine content-related competition issues;
  • imposing platform-neutral content and media diversity obligations on all content service providers that meet certain criteria (defined as “Content Service Enterprises”);
  • replacing existing media ownership rules with a revised “number of voices” rule applying to changes of control of Content Service Enterprises, and assessing mergers and acquisitions of Content Service Enterprises against a public interest test;
  • abolishing content licences in favour of specific content regulation;
  • harmonising the management and allocation of broadcast and non-broadcast spectrum;
  • providing greater certainty around spectrum licence renewal;
  • requiring all Content Service Enterprises that provide audio-visual content to contribute to the creation of Australian content;
  • promoting local and community content and encouraging innovation in content delivery;
  • extending the 40 per cent tax offset available under the producer offset scheme to premium television content exceeding a certain cost threshold, and extending eligibility for the 20 per cent producer offset to interactive content; and
  • imposing Australian content quotas on the public broadcasters.

The Review recommends this converged regulatory framework be underpinned by a new legislative structure.  This would involve a staged transition away from current regulatory divisions between the Radiocommunications Act 1992, Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and Telecommunications Act 1997, with an initial focus on introducing legislation to regulate Content Service Enterprises.

Fewer regulations, broader application

The Review’s recommendations would reduce the complexity and amount of media and communications regulation but increase the scope of its application.  The threshold criteria for a Content Service Enterprise will be a particularly crucial issue for the Final Report to determine, as this will govern how much of the new and online media industry is caught by the converged regulatory net.

The Review is due to provide its final report and non-binding recommendations to the Federal Government in March 2012.  Submissions on the Interim Report can be made up until 10 February 2012. 

Who does this affect?

All media and communications companies, but especially those delivering content services.

​What do you need to do?

Review the Interim Report and be ready to respond by 10 February 2012.

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