Broadcasters open to ACMA’s offer of self regulation

Senior television and radio executives will seriously consider an invitation from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to put forward a new self regulatory regime that could see the creation of a body with similar powers to The Australian Press Council.

The offer, made earlier this week by ACMA authority member Louise Benjamin at a panel discussion on issues of fairness and accuracy, has raised the interest of a number of senior industry figures.

“ACMA has made a very interesting suggestion and we will give it serious consideration,” Julie Flynn, CEO of Free TV Australia, told Encore.

“We certainly welcome the opportunity to engage with the regulator in its codes inquiry and we share its objective of making the code more relevant to contemporary society.”

Ciaran Davis, CEO of the Australian Radio Network is in favour of a shift to a more self-regulatory environment for radio in conjunction with existing industry body Commercial Radio Australia.

“At ARN we support building an environment of self regulation,” said Davis. “We are interested in working through the CRA to investigate the options that have been raised.”

Joan Warner, CEO of CRA, said Benjamin’s statement was of interest to the radio sector but also sounded a cautionary note. “We have put forward the idea of self regulation in the last couple of reviews because we see there is over regulation of the broadcast sector compared to every other media sector,” said Warner.

“But we don’t support a half pregnant approach either. We either have a co-regulatory or self regulatory model but if we are going to have a self regulatory model then we don’t need to have ACMA.”

ACMA’s Benjamin made the offer to broadcasters following a panel discussion involving Julian Disney, the chairman of the Australian Press Council, Jonathan Holmes, ABC Media Watch host, Chris Willis, director of news at Seven. The discussion addressed the current statutory regulator’s lack of significant “mid tier” powers, such as the ability to force a broadcaster to issue an on-air correction.

In contrast, the Australian Press Council, a self regulatory body funded by the newspaper industry, has the ability to force publishers to publish its adjudications.

“The invitation was for broadcasters to come up with a self regulatory model,” Benjamin told Encore’s sister publication Mumbrella. “At the moment it’s a co-regulatory model, which means the TV or radio station is the first port of call. I put that forward as part of the first principles review of both television and radio and it would be good to see how they think it should be done.”

The move comes as part of a wider review of the broadcast Codes of Practice. Journalism academic Margaret Simons was also involved in the panel and said of Benjamin’s remarks: “Through all the inquiries we’ve had on print regulation there has been this running question about why in the converged media world there should be a difference between how broadcast media is regulated and print media.

“It would appear ACMA is willing to talk about moving to a scheme of self regulation with some sort of statutory backing to make sure people have to be members and meet some sort of standard.”

Any deal between ACMA and the broadcasters would have to run the gauntlet of the political process and changes to existing legislation would be required. A spokesman for communications minister Stephen Conroy yesterday made clear that the current Labor government did not support any shift to a self regulatory model.

“The government has absolutely no intention of moving away from the co-regulatory system for broadcasters,” he said.

Malcolm Turnbull, shadow minister for communications, did not respond to requests for comment.

Senator Conroy will next week receive a report from the Broadcasting Legislation Joint Select Committee which is currently looking at ACMA’s powers, particularly in regards to forced on-air apologies.

“A parliamentary committee is investigating whether powers should be extended to ACMA that would require broadcasters to make on-air statements of ACMA findings,” said the ministerial spokesman.

“The government will carefully consider the committee’s recommendations when they are released next week.”

Earlier this week, ACMA’s Benjamin told Mumbrella that the regulator had long wanted more “mid-tier powers”.

“We have been asking for this power for some time,” said Benjamin. “We think it’s important to have a mid-tier power between enforceable undertaking and suspending a licence. We think the appropriate step to undo the harm is to inform the viewers that the broadcaster got it wrong.”

Nic Christensen  

Encore issue 19This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit for a preview of the app or click below to download.


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