Article by Mark Crean, Louise Capon, Alan Chalmers
The Federal Government has proposed major changes to the foreign and cross-media ownership rules under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA).
The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2002 (Bill) was introduced into the House of Representatives on 21 March 2002. Following a review of the Bill by the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Legislation Committee, the Bill was passed by the House on 15 October 2002 with a number of Government amendments and was introduced into the Senate on 23 October where debate was adjourned.
The Government has been negotiating with the minor parties and independent senators on possible amendments to the Bill in an endeavour to secure its passage. In announcing that the Bill is to be brought on for debate in the Senate in the week beginning 23 June 2003, the Government has indicated that it will move further amendments to the Bill as a result of these negotiations. The Government has also said it would favourably consider other amendments proposed by the independent senators.
The three main legislative reforms proposed in the Bill are to:
remove all restrictions on foreign ownership and control of commercial television and pay television licences
allow the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) to grant a 'cross-media exemption certificate' so that a person will not be in breach of the cross-media rules provided the person complies with the conditions of the certificate, and
impose minimum service standards for local news and information on regional commercial television and radio broadcasters.
The amendments announced by the Government on 20 June 2003 are to:
introduce a 'two out of three' rule limiting media ownership in any one market to two out of the three media types covered by the cross-media rules (commercial TV and radio, and associated newspapers). This is to apply to both metropolitan and regional markets
require the ABA to impose a licence condition on all commercial TV broadcasters in regional aggregated markets requiring a minimum amount of local news and information broadcasts
require a review of the media ownership and control provisions in the BSA in 2006
tighten the circumstances for approval of a temporary breach of the media ownership and control rules.
The amendments proposed by the independents that the Government says it would consider include:
a prohibition on the grant of a cross-media exemption certificate unless there remain five independently owned commercial media outlets (covering TV, radio and associated newspapers) in a metropolitan market, and four in regional markets
a prohibition on the ownership of more than one associated newspaper per market applicable to holders of cross-media exemption certificates
a requirement that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report on whether a proposed media merger satisfies the requirements of s.50 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (TPA) or is authorised under s.88 of the TPA, before the ABA can grant a cross-media exemption certificate
an prohibition extension of the 'two out of three' rule to include certain small local newspapers in regional areas.
The content of this article does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on in that way. Specific advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
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