Australia: Parliamentary Committee supports removal of the 75% TV reach rule

Last Updated: 13 September 2013
Article by Ian Robertson and Sarah Butler
Most Read Contributor in Australia, September 2016

The Joint Broadcasting Committee (Committee) of the Australian Parliament tabled its Three Broadcasting Reform Proposals report in late June. The Committee has recommended that the 75% population reach rule applicable to Australian television broadcasting should be abolished provided there are legal protections for local content in regional Australia.


The 75% population reach rule in section 53 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) (BSA) prohibits a person from being in a position to exercise control of commercial television broadcasting licences whose combined licence area populations exceed 75% of the population of Australia.

In March 2013, the then Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy announced that a parliamentary committee would be established to consider several areas of potential reform, including whether the 75% reach rule should be removed.

The case for removing the 75% reach rule

The Committee received submissions from 13 organisations including all six major television networks. Most, but not all, of the networks were in favour of abolishing the reach rule.

Some of the major arguments in favour of its abolition are as follows:

  1. The rule "belongs to a different era"

The original idea behind the implementation of the 75% reach rule, as expressed in the Explanatory Memorandum to the BSA was:
to reflect a recognition that commercial television is highly regulated, with limits on the introduction of new competition, and that the pervasiveness of the limited number of sub-services can have a significant degree of influence on community views.

As has been recognised by the Convergence Review and the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the current competitive environment bears little resemblance to the situation in 1992, when the 75% reach rule was initially implemented by the BSA.

In this regard, the Chair of the Committee Senator Doug Cameron said: "The Internet and converging media are making the reach rule redundant. For example, commercial television networks are partners in two of the top three Australian news websites."

  1. Technological advances

No rule that is analogous to the reach rule applies to any of the services provided by subscription television broadcasters, telecommunication companies, and internet service providers. These media providers offer national programming without any restrictions on audience reach.

The Committee also acknowledged the fact that the internet has reduced the relevance and effectiveness of the 75 % reach rule. The internet has made national media outlets accessible across the whole country. Media and communications are increasingly viewed nationally, with catch-up television services and online news websites allowing programming to be viewed by more than 75% of the population and to bypass geographical borders.

Accordingly, if the 75% reach rule is abolished, the broadcasting regulations would be more consistent with converging technology and media.

  1. Increase in efficiencies and economies of scale

One potential result of the abolishment of the 75% reach rule is an increase in efficiencies and economies of scale as a result of regional networks merging with metropolitan networks. For instance, the Nine network advised the Committee that the regional networks' corporate and operational headquarters are based in major centres, in particular Wollongong, Sydney and Melbourne. These are the sites where there would likely be duplication and where the most efficiencies would be found. Regional staff are mainly involved in sales and news gathering, which would not be duplicated with a metropolitan network should there be any mergers as a result of the reach rule being abolished.

What next?

One of the main concerns voiced to the Committee was that the removal of the reach rule would result in an automatic reduction in diversity with potentially undesirable implications for regional Australian broadcasting. The Committee accordingly prefaced its conclusion that the reach rule should be abolished with the recommendation that a clear definition of local content needs to be established which ensures that regional viewers have access to appropriate levels of high quality, locally devised, and locally presented programming.

It remains to be seen how these recommended local content proposals will be implemented and how quickly the incoming Coalition government will action the proposed reforms. Most commentators have expressed the view that media regulatory reform is unlikely to be a high priority of the new government. In addition, the fact that the National Party is one of the two parties in the Coalition means that the Committee's concerns about local regional content are likely to be of great interest to the government.

A copy of the full Committee report is available here.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Ian Robertson
Sarah Butler
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