Friday, December 16, 2011

Converging media and Internet rules impossible

The Australian Government's Convergence Review has issued an "Convergence Review Interim Report" on media and communications regulation in Australia (27 pages PDF). The difficulty for such a review is that not only have different forms of mass media converged, with print, radio and TV all now using the Internet, but so have personal communications. Media regulation was based on the assumption that a publicly owned resource (such as radio spectrum) or expensive capital equipment (a printing press) was needed for mass communication. The state could therefore regulate the media by controlling access to the communications means and could justify this by the effect that the mass communication may have on the public. But now that print, radio and TV companies are using the same Internet technology available to the general public, these rules do not make much sense. If one person views on-line content I make, I probably am not a media company, but if thousands do, a I? If the media company tailors it product for every individual viewer, is this still the mass media?

As an example, there are rules about what time of day and week alcohol advertisements can be shown on broadcast TV. These are designed to avoid school age children being exposed to the ads. But Internet distribution is not time zone based and so such a rule would be hard to enforce.

Google label their AdWords ads with a family status: "family safe" "non-family safe" or "adult." The definitions differ based on country.
Also Google have some curious rules about alcohol: "Google AdWords allows alcoholic beverages like beer, cider, sake, wine, and champagne, but we don't allow hard alcohol and liquor".

However, this form of regulation would is well down the slippery slope of web censorship. Many will think keeping alcohol ads from children is a good thing, but the same system can be used to ban ads for "change your religion", "votes for women", "opposition political party" and "democracy".Link

From the review report:

Foreword iv
1. Introduction 1
2. A new regulator for the digital economy 2
3. The removal of content licences 4
4. Content Service Enterprises 5
5. Spectrum allocation and management 6
6. Diversity 8
7. Competition 10
8. Promoting Australian content 11
9. Promoting local and community content 14
10. Public broadcasting 15
11. Content standards 16
12. Legislative structure and implementation 17
13. Conclusion & Summary 19
Appendix One: Examples of redundant regulation 20
Appendix Two: Convergence Review Principles 21
Appendix Three: Glossary and Abbreviations 22


13. Conclusion & Summary
This report sets out a vision for the future. The move away from an industry and platform specific focus will create a new framework that is technology-neutral and is adaptable and flexible. These reforms will result in reduced, more effective regulation.

The implementation of the recommendations outlined in this report will provide a new regulatory ecosystem underpinning the digital economy. The recommendations in this report should to be viewed as an integrated package of reforms. They are designed to work together covering the key issues: who regulates, what is
regulated and the intended outcomes.

The Committee expects a robust debate around the recommendations and their implementation. While stakeholders submitted different views about preferred outcomes, the overarching theme expressed during consultations was the urgent need for fundamental change.

Summary of key features of new policy framework

  • A new regulator for the digital economy
  • Removal of content‐related licences
  • A platform‐neutral regulatory framework focused on Content Service Enterprises
  • Diversity and competition measures for the converged market
  • Reform of spectrum allocation and management
  • Platform‐neutral rules for Australian content
  • Promotion of local content and support for innovation in its delivery
  • Updated charters for ABC and SBS


From: Convergence Review Interim Report, Australian Government, 2011.

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