Labor Party joins calls for further media reforms as ACCC mulls digital platforms report

The opposition Labor Party has called for further rounds of media reform, joining the chorus of demands for modernising Australia’s regulation of publishers, broadcasters and digital platforms.

Opposition communications spokesperson Michelle Rowland said Australia’s media regulations are outdated and are skewing the playing field away from local content makers, while flagging a future Labor government may look closer at the industry’s competitive landscape.

Opposition communications spokesperson Michelle Rowland (right) speaking on the Mumbrellacast late last year

“Our content industries are such a vital underpinning of our cultural expression and national identity, as well as the health of our democracy, that Labor must be satisfied that our local content producers are getting a fair deal,” Rowland told the Sydney Institute.

“So if content makers are innovative, and digital platform are pro-news, what’s the missing piece?

“I suspect it is that we still don’t have an agreed playing field, let alone a level one.”

Despite the reforms passed in late 2017 by the current Federal government, Rowland was scathing about the state of Australia’s media regulation over the past decade.

“Other jurisdictions around the world have joined up, cross-portfolio visions and strategies for communications, and have updated their regulatory frameworks many times over. It is unacceptable that this work remains unplanned and undone in Australia.”

Rowland’s comments come as the ACCC completes its review into the operation of the digital platform in Australia and largely agree with submissions made by communications regulator ACMA and of online giant Facebook that the competition regulator’s current proposals are too focused on maintaining the divide between the forms of media.

The opposition spokesperson’s comments also come ahead of the Federal election expected to be held in May which the Labor Party is widely expected to win before the ACCC hands down its report into the digital platform in June.

“What once were distinct broadcasters, telcos and print media companies are now multi-platform operators generating video content, podcasts, news and interactive experiences,” Rowland added.

“Yet Australia’s policy and regulatory framework for media and communications remains stuck in the analogue era of last century and, as a result, we’re missing out as a nation.”

Rowland also reflected on why governments had taken so long to address the power of the online giants: “I think there is a sense, now, that governments left digital platforms to grow and innovate because they were so transformative and pervasive, and nobody wanted to be the person to stifle innovation.

“It is easier, perhaps, to get your head around the implications of a choice between browsers or terminating charges, and less straightforward to grapple with a change of this scale.

“However, now there is a view that the digital platforms, once the disruptors, are now themselves so big, so vertically integrated, so (as some would argue) monopolistic in their behaviour, that they’re stifling innovation in some respects.”

“The clear sense I have is that it is up to governments to use the regulatory frameworks they have, and adapt them where necessary.

“Clearly, there are some areas of competition law that possibly should have been utilised by now. We shall see, as the ACCC progresses its work.”

Rowland also flagged Labor is also wary about the operation of the digital giants, saying: “On the question of algorithm transparency, I do not see it as a case of knowing what the secret recipe is but, rather, simply knowing whether it’s harmful or not.

“If the digital platforms aren’t the baddies, and news publishers aren’t the dummies, then nor is government regulation the enemy of innovation.

“Well-crafted policy and regulation doesn’t, of itself, stifle innovation or the future; it shapes it and provides the transparency and predictability to actually encourage investment and innovation,” Rowland concluded.


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