Australian Media Regulation: Convergence or Consolidation?

Yesterday, the Convergence Review Committee released a report proposing various changes to the current operation of Australian media and communications regulation. This committee, established in early 2011 in response to the rapidly changing media landscape, attempts to assess the effectiveness of current policies and frameworks in light of a ‘convergent era’ (Convergence Review Committee, 2012) .

When first reading the document, I was encouraged by the identification of various problems with the current policies. The report recognises that current policies and frameworks surrounding Australian cultural and creative industries, based on the traditional media structures of the 90s, “run the risk of inhibiting the evolution of communications and media services” (Convergence Review Committee, 2012). However after further investigation into the way in which these changes will affect the Australian mediascape, I could only think of Simone Murray’s conclusion to her 2005 article on corporate content streaming;

“the likely future passage of media ownership reform legislation in Australia clearly signal the subordination of legislative power to market forces in the field of media policy” (p111)

The Convergence Review proposes changing the media regulation system within Australia from a state-regulated system to two independently regulated industry bodies; one to regulate journalistic standards of practice and the other to regulate mergers and acquisitions. Glen Boreham, the chair of the Convergence Review Committee, in an interview Radio National interview explained that if this new industry body is introduced, replacing the currently operating Australian Communications and Media Authority and Australian Press Council, it “will be primarily funded by the industry” with no government control. this lack of government funding, I believe, will allow the corporations influencing market forces to gain unprecedented power.

Chris Berg, a Research Fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs and Editor of the IPA Review, sees these changes as contradictory. The idea that press-regulation will become mandatory across all media platforms to all influential media organisations is undercut by a “super-regulator” diagram (Convergence Review Committee 2012, p12) identifying the revenue and audience thresholds a media organisation must meet to qualify for regulation, and currently exclude Telstra, Google and Apple.

These three major influential organisations within the online media landscape will not be regulated by these bodies until they meet these thresholds. Is this fair? i believe not.

As well as creating a more centralised regulation of the Australian mediascape, the Convergence Review Final Report does, in my opinion, not effectively address the issues we are currently experiencing with online regulation, and is placing further power in the hands of corporations. Before completely reorganising the Australian Media Industry and replacing the current regulatory bodies, I believe that policies and frameworks for the online mediascape should be introduced. Without the knowledge of which policies and frameworks are effective in what will be a newly regulated media platform, how are we to know the best way to regulate across all media platforms at once?

References:

Convergence Review Committee 2012, Convergence Review: Final Report, sponsored by the Australian Government, Commonwealth of Australia

Murray, S 2005, ‘Think global, act global: Corporate Content Streaming and Australian Media Policy’, Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy, vol.116, pp100-112


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