Media inquiry - Where does print end and broadcast begin?

13 October 2011

The Government has attempted to set a very narrow scope for the Independent Media Inquiry so that it is limited to print media and digital and online publications (in particular where such publications represent a migration of print media).

However, the complexities of a converging world and the difficulties associated with regulation in the digital and online space, mean that the inquiry by necessity might well extend beyond its purported scope. All media outlets should look carefully at the inquiry and should consider whether they should become involved, in order to protect their long term interests.

The inquiry’s terms of reference suggest it will focus on print media and then on digital and online publications only to the extent that those publications represent a migration of print media.

At first glance, traditional electronic media would seem to be excluded. However, the mentioning of the convergence review and technological change in the terms of reference potentially opens the gate for the inquiry to spill over into television and radio.

Moreover, the conspicuous inclusion in the terms of reference of “ [how] diversity [can be] enhanced”, could give rise to a consideration of the far-reaching topic of media ownership and control, which would ultimately draw in television and radio.

In a converged world, television and radio networks hope to be able to provide content and other programming to mobile carriers and online service providers. As such, the introduction of new laws or regulations that impact on the ownership and control of, or the provision of content and other programming to, mobile carriers and online service providers would also have an impact on television and radio networks.

Since announcing the inquiry, the Minister has confirmed the Government’s intention to limit the inquiry to print media and digital and online platforms only to the extent that those platforms represent a migration of print media. The Minister has made reference to the convergence review being undertaken in parallel with the print media inquiry in an effort to indicate that mobile carriers, television and radio networks and other conventional electronic media would be covered by the convergence review and not by this inquiry.

Nevertheless the results of the print media inquiry will feed into the convergence review and it is possible (perhaps even expected) that the end result will be collective recommendations to come out of both. The creation of a super regulatory body has been mooted as one of the contemplated outcomes. This could be ACMA or another body having regulatory control over print media as well as conventional electronic media and digital and online platforms, and mobile telecommunications.

Ultimately, the inquiry is most directly relevant to print media organisations, however it may also have significant implications for television and radio networks, mobile carriers, digital and online service providers and even the national broadband network.

The industry bodies that represent television and radio networks have already concluded that they must submit to this inquiry. This is to ensure recommendations aren’t made that could impact on their members, directly or indirectly, without those bodies having an opportunity to put their case.

Regardless of government intentions to quarantine print media into a separate inquiry, the very nature of convergence will ensure the outcomes are felt industry-wide.

The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication.

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