The Minister for Communications, Senator Helen Coonan, has released a discussion paper on reform options for Australia’s media industry: Meeting the Digital Challenge: Reforming Australia’s media in the digital age. Here are some highlights.

“For the Government, the impact of digital technologies means the current regulatory settings, which are largely designed for an analogue world, risk becoming outdated,” says Senator Coonan in the paper.

“In the end, any media reforms must be about providing a richer and more diverse media environment for Australian consumers and that is why their views are important. The reforms ensure Australia will not be left behind as the world converts to digital.

“There is a compelling case for change and if the Government does not act, then there is a genuine risk that Australia will become a dinosaur of the analogue age.”

Digital Action Plan

The Government proposes to develop a Digital Action Plan in partnership with stakeholders to expedite digital conversion, bring the simulcast period to an end and achieve analogue switchover.

The Digital Action Plan would be released in 2006. The proposed Digital Action Plan would contain:
· A roadmap to guide the process and a time frame for the closure of analogue television services in Australia
· Measures aimed at providing appropriate incentives to broadcasters, receiver manufacturers/importers and others to move to digital television
· Appropriate incentives and potential assistance that may be required for consumers to move to digital television; and
· The roles that various stakeholders and agencies would play in working together to achieve switchover, including the potential formation of a dedicated new organisation to oversee and co-ordinate the activities necessary to achieve analogue switchover
The Digital Action Plan would recognise the different requirements for achieving analogue switchover in metropolitan and regional areas nationally.

It is proposed that the Digital Action Plan aim for an analogue switchover period commencing in 2010 to 2012, consistent with the targets set in many other industrialised nations and subject to the development of the roadmap.

High Definition television

Preferred options :
· The current HDTV quota of 1040 hours per year would be retained until the end of the simulcast period, consistent with the transitional nature of the current policy settings and the Digital Action Plan
· As an interim measure, from 1 January 2007, the Government could remove the requirement that the HDTV version of a digital television service be a simulcast of the SDTV service. This option would effectively allow FTA TV broadcasters to run one multichannel in HDTV in advance of switch-off

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