Media watchdog: Accuracy and fairness rules could be simplified, but not classifications

ACMA chair Chris Chapman

ACMA chair Chris Chapman

Media watchdog the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) says it willing to look at the rules around accuracy, impartiality and fairness in the Codes of Practice following the release of a new report yesterday.

Research conducted in the Contemporary community safeguards inquiry looked at community attitudes to the broadcast rules in a number of areas including balance and fairness, classifications and advertising.

The new report also coincides with a review of media regulation by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull where a number of broadcasters have argued that they are increasingly financially “squeezed” and argued for a reduction their the licencing fees. The watchdog commissioned PWC to dig into the finances of networks, and discovered despite the complaints “the profitability of commercial television broadcasters has been steady over the past decade.”

ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said the report showed a more nuanced community understanding of the challenges facing broadcasters than traditionally thought. “The research suggested a more insightful and tacitly insightful community assessment of these issue of what we have call ethical standards – accuracy, impartiality, fairness – in the various codes,” said Chapman.

“I found that encouraging because it is not a one stop shop which I think plays well to the different sectors in the broadcasting space being able to advance their own views in their codes and what is relevant in their own space.”

Chapman said he was pleased with this because it showed the community understanding of issues around accuracy, bias and fairness were strong and ACMA was willing to work with the industry on ensuring that the Codes of Practice reflected that.

“I think it is helpful because it gives the authority encouragement that the community understands there are different dynamics at play in different circumstances. I found that very encouraging,” he said.

The ACMA has come in for criticism after some recent rulings, with broadcasters such as talkback radio stations angry about it applying the same accuracy and fairness provisions to their talkback “opinion” programs as they do to news.

“What the ACMA is saying is that it is very open to discussing through the tabling of codes, when they come up, whether there is a better way for individual sectors of the media to operationalise the particular enduring concepts in their code framework and dynamic of their business. I think the ACMA is saying how these things are operationalised is very much open to discussion and that ACMA is alive to those differences,” said Chapman.

While accuracy and fairness could be up for revision Chapman signalled a harder line line on classifications are other issues around safeguards designed to protect minors such as the times when content can be shown.

“It’s a matter of degrees,” he said. “There is not quite wholesale endorsement of the observation that in this increasingly converged media world things like timezones and classifications are a thing of the past.

“The community suggests that it continues to place significant store on it and would be reluctant to let go of those protections.”

On the research by PWC into the financial burden of regulation Chapman said: “The financial assessments were principally done, for the first time, to put some dollars – comparative and absolute – against the cost of the regulatory burden. People have talked about it for years and people have thrown assertions around.

The report found that most respondents surveyed “identified complaints-handling as the code requirement that imposes the greatest compliance burden on their organisations.”

However, it also found that while TV broadcasters face challenges from time-shifting and advertising revenue moving to the internet “the profitability of commercial television broadcasters has been steady over the past decade.” While in radio the picture was slightly more fraught as “the main financial trend for commercial radio over the next five years is expected to be a reduction in revenue as broadcasters continue to face a fragmented market.”

Chapman refused to be drawn on the report’s financial findings but noted ACMA would weigh this against the requirements for it to meet community expectations.

“I’ll let the research speak for itself. I won’t get into a commentary on how they are travelling financially,” he said. “We tried to identify the issues that are most burdensome. Ours is a balancing act, we have to support innovative programming, go with the minimum regulatory intervention that is necessary and at the same time provide adequate community safeguards.”

Nic Christensen


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.