Government commits to ‘platform-neutral’ media regulation

Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher. 

The Federal Government has committed to a staged process of media regulation reform, ultimately culminating in what it says will be a “platform-neutral regulatory framework covering both online and offline delivery of media content.”

Within its immediate focus in 2020 is looking at the content obligations on free-to-air broadcasters and whether there should be local content requirements imposed on SVOD services like Netflix and Stan; a move welcomed by industry bodies such as Screen Producers Australia and networks alike.

The government has also prioritised a uniform classification framework across all media platforms and  “other aspects of the policy framework to support Australian film and television content”.

As part of the first stage of reform, Screen Australia and ACMA will release an options paper in early 2020 that will look at how to best support Australian stories in a modern, multi-platform environment.

The government will then lead into a second phase which will include a review of advertising rules across platforms, mechanisms to monitor and enforce the regulatory framework and measures to “remove redundant legislation and implement a coherent legal framework for consumers and for industry participants.”

The government’s announcement comes as part of the overall response, handed down today, to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)’s Digital Platforms Inquiry, which looked at all aspects of the media, including news and journalistic content.

More broadly the Morrison Government has also committed to establishing a unit within the ACCC to monitor and report on competition and consumer protection in digital platform markets. It will also address bargaining power concerns between digital platforms and media businesses through a code of conduct.

Organisations like SPA have been pushing government to review content regulation on streaming services for years. In that sense, it is no surprise that they welcomed the government’s response.

While acknowledging the reform was difficult, SPA CEO Matthew Deaner urged government not waiver, arguing it was well overdue and necessary in order for the Australian screen industry to be sustainable. He added that he hoped the departmental restructure, which has seen the Department of Communications and the Arts folded into a new portfolio that also includes infrastructure, transport and regional development, would not delay progress.

Deaner said: “One of the clear themes of the report is the lack of data transparency when it comes to digital platforms. This will be a major challenge in designing a framework that is fit for purpose. For example, a recent study by RMIT academics has estimated that 9 per cent of content on Stan and 1.7 per cent of content on Netflix is Australian. But this information is not provided by the SVOD services themselves, or indeed by any streaming services. Without key data, it will be difficult to come up with an effective regulatory regime.”

Seven West Media CEO James Warburton said the broadcaster welcomed that the government had supported a majority of the ACCC’s recommendations, and was particularly pleased by the announcement it would address “out of date” content requirements.

“We encourage the Government to move quickly to provide certainty to industry and put in place a new framework for content that better reflects commercial realities and the changed viewing patterns of Australian audiences,” he said.

“The urgent need for regulatory equality between foreign digital platforms and Australian companies has been recognised by the Government. We see this as a real turning point, as for too long legislation has lagged well behind technological evolution, disadvantaging Australian companies and providing foreign digital platforms with a free ride.”

Network 10 CEO Paul Anderson said: “It’s great the Government is making a serious attempt to address the deep-rooted dominance of the online tech and streaming giants.

“On Free to Air content regulation, the issues are clear and the answers are already there. We just have to get cracking and get it done.”

Nine CEO Hugh Marks called the government’s announcement “much needed” and “timely.”

“It provides a clear timeline and platform for our industry to be able to engage with the social media platforms on a basis we ultimately believe will be a win win not only for our industry and the people that work in it, but the social platforms as well.  We congratulate the Prime Minister, Minister Fletcher and the Government on its bold statement and look forward to the next steps in achieving recognition of the value that our content and our journalism means to the social platforms and their audiences.”