Turning media bolognese into a fresh pack of pasta
I would bet that for probably 95 per cent of regular visitors to The Punch, media policy is quite a way down the list of topics of interest. Like, near the very bottom. Even below Tanya Zaetta. For the punters, it just isn’t the stuff of sexy reading.
But, for the egg heads out there, yesterday’s release of the final report from the Federal Government’s Convergence Review is the latest chapter in what can only be described as one big, hot, steamy, media policy orgy.
For some people (which does not include me… I am far too lazy, ahem, busy doing my job) wading through the various chunky reports is like taking Viagra.
I have been told that there are dozens of reviews into various aspects of the media still going on. What you really need (well, “may wish”) to know is that we’ve now had three significant review processes which have all wrapped up now.
The first is the Independent Media Inquiry, headed up by Ray Finkelstein QC.
As regular readers of The Punch will already be aware, I was hardly a fan of that particular venture from the outset, which seemed to be unsure of the reasons for its existence in the first place.
It ended up recommending that the current Press Council and some regulatory oversight currently undertaken by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) be replaced by a more heavy-handed statutory body called the “News Media Council”.
Even Jonathan Holmes turned his nose up at that prospect, which should tell you all you need to know.
The second big review, which delivered its findings at about the same time, was the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Classification and Censorship Review which examined classification codes and where and how they would or could apply to different media forms – especially emerging ones – for the first time in 20 years.
That review (lead by Professor Terry Flew, a colleague of mine) didn’t make as big a public splash, probably because the final recommendations were all rather sensible and aimed largely to close loopholes, iron out inconsistencies, and minimise unnecessary classification of content in Australia.
The third, and certainly most significant of them all, is the Convergence Review.
its 198 page report (thin, by some standards) has suggested that the ACMA be entirely replaced by a new regulatory authority (incorporating what is now the Content Classification Board) and another journalistic standards body (operating more like the current Press Council than the News Media Council).
Well, that’s what I can make out. Heck, I’m an academic and I struggle with the fine details of this stuff.
In short, the Convergence Review (like the ALRC Review before it), has tried its best to undertake an enormous challenge: balancing the need to introduce a level of consistency in the regulation of media industries on the one hand, with the need to minimise the procedural burden of that regulation on the other.
While most people would entirely agree that, for example, television ought to be quite firmly regulated in terms of what it can and can’t show, when and how, throwing, say, the work of a popular local blogger into the mix changes things somewhat.
Faced with rapid technological, organisational and social change over the last 20 years – which, let’s face it, is a trend not likely to go away soon – its goal of introducing a “technology-neutral approach to content regulation” is therefore ideal.
In the digital age, content is now largely disconnected from the mechanism of its delivery. In regulating radio, you’re not just dealing with that thing with a big dial and an antenna, but, potentially, the computer in your office, or the iPad in your handbag.
In short, the practicalities of achieving the technology-neutral goal are incredibly complex. Especially when it’s impossible to make any generalisations on how the many different organisations deploy their content across all the available technologies, and who, in turn, has ownership and oversight of those technologies.
Recently, UNSW Professor Catharine Lumby noted that the system of media regulation in Australia is “like a bowl of spaghetti ... complex, tangled and, from a media user point of view, impossible to tell which bit of media content connects to which regulatory framework”. It was a point so well made that the Classification Review quoted it.
I’m personally encouraged by the Convergence Review report, and the prospect of a centralised, simplified, but not weakened, media authority. It could just straighten-out this big bowl of spaghetti.
It will be interesting to see whether its scope – based on an interesting reach/revenue model – will manage to end up appropriately regulating those that ought to be regulated, while leaving those that don’t need to be regulated alone. At the very least it seems to have gotten the priorities right, in ownership, content standards and Australian content.
How all of its recommendations take a practical shape in the short term – given this Government is probably feeling desperate to turn any attention away from its internal squabbles – and the long term, given what would seem to be a now-inevitable change of Government, is another matter entirely.
The real problem here is that, to the punters out on the street, this wave of reports and reviews is infinitely more confusing than the regulatory system they are seeking to fix.
To them, this is no big, steamy policy orgy, but a big, steaming pile of something else entirely.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…