By Nicholas Cole, Special Counsel, DLA Piper Australia

On 14th September 2011, the Australian Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy announced an independent inquiry into the Australian media (Media Inquiry).
The Media Inquiry significantly expands the scope of the Government’s existing review of the policy and regulatory frameworks that apply to the converged media and communications landscape in Australia (Convergence Review).

On 14th September 2011, the Australian Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy announced an independent inquiry into the Australian media (Media Inquiry).

The Media Inquiry significantly expands the scope of the Government’s existing review of the policy and regulatory frameworks that apply to the converged media and communications landscape in Australia (Convergence Review).

The Convergence Review

The Convergence Review was established in late 2010 and is due to report to the Government by March 2012. Its purpose is to inform the Australian Government as to what regulatory and policy changes are necessary in light of the establishment of the National Broadband Network (NBN), which will deliver fibre optic cabling with speeds of up to 100 megabits per second to up to 93% of Australian homes. 

While the potential of converged media has been known for some time, the completion of the NBN will ensure that its full potential can be realised by ordinary consumers of content. Accordingly, the timing of the Convergence Review is to be welcomed.

  • The Convergence Review has been given the task of examining and making recommendations on the following issues:
  • In light of converged media, what is an appropriate policy framework for the production and delivery of media content and communication services?
  • What regulatory or non-regulatory measures should be adopted in a new policy framework, including consideration of:
    • the development and maintenance of a diverse, innovative, efficient and effective communications and media market that operates in the best interest of the Australian public
    • ensuring the ongoing production and distribution of local and Australian content
    • the impact of policy settings on industry and government revenue
    • appropriate ways to treat content, and the services and applications used to deliver content, which are cross-border in nature
    • appropriate policy settings for content classification
    • management of spectrum allocation
    • international responses to convergence and Australia’s international commitments.

The scope of the Convergence Review is considerable and, depending on the recommendations that are made, may potentially determine the Government’s policy in relation to:

  • media ownership in Australia
  • spectrum allocation
  • Australian content requirements
  • regulation of content
  • copyright.

Accordingly, the outcome of the Convergence Review will be relevant to any producer or distributor of content that is currently delivering or intending in the future to deliver content to Australian consumers on any platform.

Interested parties have until 28 October 2011 to make a submission to the Convergence Review.

The Media Inquiry

The Media Inquiry will be an adjunct to the Convergence Review and significantly expands its scope.  Together, the Convergence Review and the Media Inquiry will result in one of the most comprehensive reviews of the policy and regulatory frameworks that apply to the production and distribution of content in Australia.  

The Media Inquiry will investigate the following issues:

  • the effectiveness of the current media codes of practice in Australia and their application to all forms of media platforms
  • the impact of technological change on the media business
  • ways of strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the Australian Press Council, including the handling of complaints
  • any related issues pertaining to media regulation and codes of practice, and the public interest.

While critics of the Government have dismissed the Media Inquiry as no more than a political stunt by a government that is sensitive to media criticism, there are also advocates who genuinely believe that the Australian media is lacking an effective watchdog.  Since the Press Council is funded by the newspapers themselves and given that Australian media ownership is so highly concentrated, it is worth considering whether the Press Council should be amalgamated with the Australian Communications and Media Authority in order to ensure that Australian media has an effective watchdog with appropriate disciplinary powers.  

The Media Inquiry will be conducted by Ray Finkelstein QC, a former Justice of the Federal Court of Australia.  He will be assisted by former journalist Dr Matthew Ricketson. The Media Inquiry is due to report to the Government by 28 February 2012, to ensure that its findings can be incorporated into the ultimate report of the Convergence Review by the end March 2012.

We will monitor the progress of both the Convergence Review and the Media Inquiry and will continue to update our clients when there are significant developments.