Update: FIVE Australian media inquiries at once: your guide to the mayhem


N.B.: ACMA privacy inquiry added as #5 below.

There are five major federal inquiries into Australian media regulation under way, with considerable duplication of their terms of reference.

The technological challenges of convergence and international concern over journalists’ privacy intrusion are informing the debate about the issues and will likely shape their outcomes.

The five simultaneous reviews have caused a duplication of time, effort and resources for those facing the consequences of their outcomes. Interested parties might need to file up to nine submissions covering the issues papers already released and also appear at the various hearings.

I am summarising the key elements of each of the five here for the benefit of journalists, lawyers and researchers who, like me, are confused by this national inquiry-fest on a multiple fronts.

The inquiries (with hyperlinked URL), their terms of reference, issues papers, and submission deadlines are as follows:


1. Convergence Review

The Australian Government’s Convergence Review of the regulation of media and communications was announced in December 2010.

  • Its terms of referencerequire it to review the current policy framework for the production and delivery of media content and communications services in the light of convergence and:
    • develop advice for the government on the appropriate policy framework for a converged environment;
    • advise on ways of achieving it, including implementation options and timeframes where appropriate; and
    • advise on the potential impact of reform options on industry, consumers and the community.

It also has to inquire into and advise on:

  • whether the existing regulatory objectives remain appropriate in a converging environment; and
  • if so, whether the regulatory approach embodied in the current policy framework remains the most effective and efficient, and
  • its preferred alternative regulatory or non-regulatory measures to form a new framework and the principles that will underpin it.

It is required to ensure that media and communications services are provided within an environment that fosters competition, is technology-neutral, encourages a diversity of voices, and protects Australian culture, community values and citizens’ rights.

On September 19, the review released five issues papers addressing:

Submissions close on October 28. The Convergence Review’s report is due by the end of March 2012.


2. Independent Media Inquiry

The Independent Media Inquiry was announced on September 14 (supplementary to the Convergence Review) to provide a “separate and distinct examination of the pressures facing newspapers, online publications and their newsrooms, as well as the operation of the Australian Press Council”. It is due to report by February 28, 2012. Its terms of reference require it to examine:

  • the effectiveness of the current media codes of practice in Australia, particularly in light of technological change that is leading to the migration of print media to digital and online platforms;
  • the impact of this technological change on the business model that has supported the investment by traditional media organisations in quality journalism and the production of news, and how such activities can be supported, and diversity enhanced, in the changed media environment;
  • ways of substantially strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the Australian Press Council, including in relation to online publications, and with particular reference to the handling of complaints;
  • any related issues pertaining to the ability of the media to operate according to regulations and codes of practice, and in the public interest.

On September 28, the inquiry released an issues paper detailing its priorities. Submissions are due by October 31.


3. National Classification Scheme review

The Attorney-General asked the Australian Law Reform Commission on March 24 to investigate the National Classification Scheme and review:

  • existing Commonwealth, State and Territory classification laws;
  • the current classification categories contained in the Classification Act, Code and Guidelines;
  • the rapid pace of technological change;
  • the need to improve classification information available to the community;
  • the effect of media on children; and
  • the desirability of a strong content and distribution industry in Australia.

It released a Discussion Paper on September 30, and has called for online submissions by November 18. The discussion paper notes that news and current affairs are likely to be exempt from any classification regime. The ALRC’s report is due by January 30, 2012.


4. Commonwealth Government’s Privacy Issues Paper

The Australian government finally released a Privacy Issues Paper on September 22 addressing recommendations for a new statutory tort of privacy proposed by the Australian Law Reform Commission in its 2008 report Report 108: For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice (2008).

The paper asks:

  • whether new technologies create a need for new laws to protect privacy;
  • whether there should be a statutory cause of action for serious privacy invasion;
  • what standards should apply;
  • how other interests should be balanced (particularly free expression);
  • what defences should apply; and
  • several other questions related to any implementation of a new tort.

Submissions are due by Friday, November 4.


**UPDATE: 5. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Review of privacy guidelines for broadcasters IFC28/2011

The ACMA is reviewing the privacy and intrusion provisions of its various broadcasting industry codes of practice. Its original guidelines were introduced in 2005, and this is their first review.

It has released reviewed guidelines for comment in Word (286 kb) and PDF (230 kb) formats, suggesting new provisions relating to privacy intrusion and stories involving vulnerable people and children.

Its recommendations are based upon its commissioned research reports Community research into broadcasting and media privacy (2011) and Australians’ views on privacy in broadcast news and current affairs (2011).

It states it has considered:

  • the relevant provisions of the broadcasting codes of practice
  • the ACMA’s broadcasting investigations concerning privacy since August 2005
  • qualitative and quantitative research into attitudes to privacy, commissioned by the ACMA between May and September 2010
  • the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report 108 For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice
  • developments in the law.

Submissions are due by October 7, so act fast if you have a comment!

Clear as mud now? I’m looking forward to reading your submissions. 😉

© Mark Pearson 2011

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer! My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.


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4 responses to “Update: FIVE Australian media inquiries at once: your guide to the mayhem

  1. Pingback: My piece in The Drum: Media regulation made simple by ‘responsible truth-telling’ | journlaw

  2. Pingback: Journalists and vulnerable sources: our submission to the Media Inquiry | journlaw

  3. Pingback: Vulnerability and the news media – our submission to the Independent Media Inquiry | @ProfMarkPearson

  4. Pingback: Australian Independent Inquiry into the Media: Issues Paper published « Inforrm's Blog

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