The Federal Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, yesterday
announced the Government's long-promised suite of reforms to
The package proposed by the Government is an amalgamation of the
measures recommended by the Finkelstein Inquiry (released on 28
February 2012) and the Convergence Review (released on 1 May 2012),
some of which have been extensively reworked.
The Government has signalled its intent to introduce the
legislation (which should comprise three separate bills) later this
week and has issued a deadline for the legislation to be passed,
being the end of next week, failing which the Government will not
seek to pursue the reforms before the federal election in September
The Proposed Reforms
Senator Conroy has outlined the key measures to be introduced by
the Government, which include:
The introduction of a more "rigorous" self-regulated
set of standards for print and online news. No detail of these
standards has been given.
The establishment of a "public interest test" in
relation to media mergers and acquisitions, the aim of which is to
preserve diversity in the Australian media. Importantly, Senator
Conroy indicated that the proposed public interest test would only
apply to significant media organisations. When prompted, Senator
Conroy estimated that publications with "above about...
60,000" paying daily subscribers would be captured by the
test. This would mean that most blogs and content aggregators (such
as Google) would not be subject to the test.
The establishment of a Public Interest Media Advocate, with
statutory powers including oversight of the public interest test
and some oversight of the press standards bodies, such as the Press
Council. For instance:
3.1 in relation to the public interest test, the Public Interest
Media Advocate would determine whether prospective mergers and
acquisitions of media companies would receive the green light;
3.2 in relation to oversight of the press standards bodies, the
Public Interest Media Advocate will have the power to grant a press
standards body an exemption from certain provisions of the
Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) if they meet the requisite
A revision of the charters in respect of the ABC and the SBS to
take into account their online and digital activities.
The reduction of commercial television licence fees permanently
by 50%, conditional upon the broadcasters increasing their
Australian content by 1490 hours by 2015 (this would feature in a
separate bill to be brought before Parliament).
Which Proposals have been left on the Cutting Room Floor?
The Government has elected not to implement several key reforms
proposed under the Finkelstein Inquiry and Convergence Review.
Most notably, the Government would appear to have abandoned (at
least for the time being) the notion of a statutory body:
1.1 to replace the Australian Press Council (as was proposed
under the Finkelstein Inquiry), or
1.2 to manage all compliance matters relating to media content,
with the exception of news and commentary (as was proposed under
the Convergence Review).
Instead, the Government has opted for a statutory body with far
more limited powers (the Public Interest Media Advocate).
As to the question of a statutory tort of privacy, the
Government has elected to refer the matter to the ALRC for
The Government will also establish a Parliamentary Committee to
consider the abolition of the 75 per cent "reach rule".
The existing rule prevents a person from exercising control over a
commercial television broadcasting licence where the licence area
is more than 75 per cent of the Australian population.
The future of the 75 per cent "reach rule" is a
particular sensitive topic given recent reports in the media that
Nine Entertainment is considering a merger with South Cross Media
(valued in the vicinity of $4 billion), which could not otherwise
proceed without the removal of the rule. However, the Government
has indicated that the rule may yet still feature in the
legislation if the measure is approval by the Parliamentary
Committee before the end of next week.
Media analysis of the reforms made since their announcement
yesterday afternoon suggests lukewarm acceptance of some of the
proposals and widespread criticism of others. In particular, the
Government has been criticised for its failure to embrace only a
limited reform package, timed in such a way as to make it difficult
to be passed into law.
The assistance of Nicholas Rozenberg, Solicitor, of Addisons
in the preparation of this article is noted and greatly
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
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