Update on the Federal Government’s Convergence Review

August 26, 2011

By Elisabeth K. Cooke

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is in the process of completing a convergence review of the media and communications laws and regulatory frameworks that apply withinAustralia. The convergence review has stimulated a tremendous debate across the industry.

As older media and communications technologies converge on the Internet, the Convergence Review was formed to examine the changes effected on consumers, business and government and propose new regulations for the digital landscape.

Upon release of the Framing Paper in June 2011, the Convergence review received 72 submissions addressing the eight principles and policy concerns raised by the Convergence Review Framing Paper. The submissions detailed overwhelming support for the review and in depth discussion and feedback on the eight principles and corresponding policy issues addressed in the Framing Paper. Many submissions included other principles and issues that should be considered by the Review Committee.

The eight principles listed in the framing paper broadly addresses: diversity and competition, local and Australian content, community standards, consumer and citizens rights and spectrum allocation. While these principles read like a wish list in a newly converged environment, they raise significant challenges and difficulties. For instance, Principle 5 states that:

‘Communications and media services available to Australians should reflect community standards and the views and expectations of the Australian public’.

However, within such a diverse nation, the fundamental step of defining whose ‘community standard’ is to be the measuring stick in assessing the ‘Australian public’ is absent.

Lawmakers will likely face significant challenges when drafting regulations to fit across all platforms in a converged environment. Complicating the review process even more, these new regulations must be able to anticipate future technological advancements within an industry that has the potential to change dramatically overnight. Social networking raises its head once again, blurring the line between the consumer and creator, further complicating a new regulatory scheme.

However, the difficulties with the convergence review do not stop with technological challenges. The review itself will not address copyright law, classification law, competition issues regarding the National Broadband Network, comparative international approaches orAustralia’s international obligations.

While the Convergence Review is a welcome opportunity to update media and communications law to reflect current technologies and strengthen an industry, the results may not be quite so simple.

The Convergence Review can be followed on the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy website, and on twitter.

Elisabeth Cooke recently received a JD from the Melbourne Law School and works for the Centre for Media and Communications Law

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