As Google and Apple escape the potential wrath of new media regulator, the TV networks are spitting fire.
The Convergence Review on the future of Australia’s media industry, whose full report was released yesterday, recommended a statutory media regulator replaced with the existing Press Council, Australia Communication and Media Authority, (ACMA) and would have classification powers also.
“The Review recommends that a new communications regulator be established to replace the existing Australian Communications and Media Authority.
“The regulator should operate at arm’s length from government direction, except in a limited range of specified matters,” the report states.
Despite the growth of Internet news and media, the proposed regulator would focus on traditional media outlets including TV, newspaper, magazine, radio and media companies would be known as “content service enterprises.”
In addition, the proposed “public interest test” on new mergers and acquisitions means any new regulator would have a keen eye on media ownership and plurality, which has big players like News Limited, who own everything from The Australian, Daily Telegraph to a 25% stake in Foxtel, running scared.
The Convergence Review also recommends a minimum number of local owners to ensure plurality of news and opinion.
News Limited and Google has contended, in pre-submissions to the report, that online media should not be subject to obligations relating to content standards, Australian content or changes in ownership.
And it seems Google, Apple and Facebook will escape the beady eye of the regulator – thanks to the criterion for the proposed “content service enterprises” (defined as generating $50 million a year of Australian-sourced content revenue and audience of 500 000 per month).
Using these criterion, it would appear that the established media organisations (the broadcasters and the major Australian newspaper groups) would be likely to reach the threshold for a content service enterprise, the report states, while enterprises such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Telstra would not qualify.
Foxtel boss Richard Freudenstein says his company “is concerned that overall the review recommends needless new regulation that will stifle innovation and does not recognise market reality”.
Freudenstein also flagged the public interest test as a particular concern, saying it would “be broad and subjective and by the review’s own admission, it may increase regulatory burden.”
But the Review also calls for broadcasters to invest a certain amount of money in local Aussie video content by 50%, which Ten CEO James Wharburton said there was “no justification for” and also believes the report actually “recommends the introduction of more regulation.”
However, the Convergence Review isn’t so bad and is “fairly conservative on the convergence bits and not particularly adventerous,” says Geoff Johnson, Research VP, Gartner.
Google and Apple were “conveniently excluded” from the top 15 media outlets in Oz, and notes the 500K audience cut off point was a “masterful” stroke, meaning the likes of Telstra and Optus, as well as global players like Twitter, YouTube who are significant online content providers are excluded.
So, will Australians see a massive difference in the media in the near future?
The recommendations mark a “light touch regulatory approach” says Johnson, but are implementable and one “could bank on them becoming outcomes.” And although it doesn’t change the players it does put some principals in place.
But consumers will still be fairly free, he adds. The focus on social networks like Facebook and online content sources will be saved for another say – probably in about 5 years time.
The review denies it is seeking to regulate the internet although warns “any enterprise with a significant presence in Australia should be accountable in Australia.”
The Minister for Broadband, Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, said the government will respond to the recommendations “in due course.”
“I expect the recommendations will generate robust public debate,” he added.