CONVERGENCE REVIEW: MORE REGULATION & GOVERNMENT INTRUSION
The Convergence Review’s Final Report into regulation of the media is exactly what Australians should have expected from an inquiry set up by this Labor Government – a recipe for more intrusive regulation of speech, new rules about what content should be broadcast when, and an enlarged role for the public sector.
The Coalition will carefully study the Convergence Review’s recommendations, and will participate in the debate that will follow.
As with many industries, media regulation has built up over time. Many people welcomed the Government’s claim that this exercise would lead to a substantial reduction in industry-specific regulation, but the Convergence Review has done exactly the opposite.
Even though there is an existing industry-specific regulator with an annual budget of $109 million (the Australian Communications and Media Authority) the Convergence Review recommends creation of a new “independent communications regulator” with vast discretion over media ownership and competition, content standards, content quotas and technical standards.
The proposed regulator would have discretion to adopt industry content codes and standards or devise its own, and to determine how it will investigate complaints and enforce compliance.
The Convergence Review recommends outlets providing “professional news and commentary” should be subject to a separate self-regulatory body enforcing “news standards” aimed at promoting fairness, accuracy and transparency in professional news and commentary.
On content, the Review’s fundamental premise appears to be a firm conviction that it (and by implication the Government) knows better than existing media outlets, the marketplace or consumers what material should be delivered to Australians.
How else to explain its recommendations that:
• “The government should create and partly fund a new converged content production fund to support the production of Australian content.”
• “Content service enterprises that meet defined service and scale thresholds should be required to invest a percentage of their total revenue from professional television-like content in the production of Australian drama, documentary or children’s content or, where this is not practicable, contribute to a new converged content production fund.”
• Australian local content quotas currently applicable to analogue radio stations should be extended to digital radio.
• The 55 per cent Australian content quota currently applied to commercial TV during prime time should also be imposed on the ABC.
• “There should be a 50 per cent increase in Australian sub-quota content obligations for drama, documentary and children’s content to reflect the two additional channels each broadcaster currently operates that do not attract any quotas.”
These requirements would impose an additional financial burden on enterprises which in many cases are struggling to remain profitable and viable.
The Coalition is very committed to Australian content and the continued development of the Australian film and television industry but incentives must also recognise fiscal reality.
The report proposes enlarging existing tax breaks for film and television production and extending them to the creation of online or interactive content. The Government must advise the Australian public as soon as possible what the fiscal cost of such an expansion would be.
Finally, on media ownership, the Convergence Review urges the scrapping of well-established black letter law in favour of an amorphous “public interest test” which would in effect mean the politicisation of decisions involving changes of control.
How many Australians would trust Julia Gillard to determine whether a media merger is in the national interest?