Regulating free speech and belting the digital economy
We live in a world where everyone knows everything all the time, where the limited old ways of accessing information are no more, where people who are quaintly still described as newspaper “photographers” now shoot video footage for 24-hour news websites which you can watch on your telephone, your tablet or television.
We also live in a more democratic media world than ever before. Once upon a time, traditional media companies and the people who wrote for them could posture as unchallenged oracles. That is no longer the case. The barriers for entry into publishing in the digital age are zero. If you don’t like what a columnist has written, jump on their website and say so, or start your own blog putting a different view.
We can also be more readily and instantly entertained than ever before. Thirty years ago there was no Foxtel, and the fact that you could set the timer on your VCR was cause for excitement. Now, you can program your IQ box online from your work PC, you can download anything from the app store, or find it anyway on YouTube, when and where you want it.
All of this is known in the media industry as convergence – a fancy term for the fact that, in 2012, there is little if any difference between radio stations, newspapers, TV networks and websites in their manner of operation. It’s the subject of an inquiry by the Federal Government known (appropriately enough) as the Convergence Review. Its final report is due next month but from what we have seen so far, there are several things about the Convergence Review which are both bizarre and worrying.
The biggest concern is that it takes a whole bunch of businesses which have thrived on account of not being regulated, and seeks to regulate them.
These are industries which have been wholly driven by a desire to serve their audiences and customers, rather than meeting any mandated government requirements for content, and are now at risk of being dragged into a system of regulation which began in the days of black and white television.
The reason free-to-air television stations were regulated in the first place was that they used a scarce public asset, radio frequency spectrum, in order to broadcast.
Subscription TV is also regulated in terms of community standards and Australian content, despite the fact that consumers happily pay for it, at no cost to the public. Its regulation is not aimed at protecting our moral fibre or our sense of national identity, but simply to protect commercial television from competition from Foxtel.
The print media and the internet have never been regulated because they do not use the radio frequency spectrum.
Now it all looks like all of them will be regulated.
Rather than acknowledging that the world has changed – and that the media landscape is now more open, competitive and innovative than ever before – the Convergence Review seeks to extend regulation with the creation of a new all-encompassing media category known as a “Content Service Enterprise”.
CSEs could be defined as TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, news websites, Google and YouTube, gaming websites such as Xboxlive, the news feed you read when you open your hotmail or yahoo accounts, possibly Facebook and Twitter if you use your account as a news service…you name it.
All of these CSEs would be subject to a new super-regulator, with broader powers than ACMA. There are reassurances in the Convergence Review’s interim report that the regulator will be “arm’s length” from government. They are not worth the paper they are written on. By definition, any body which is charged with implementing government regulations over the media is a form of government interference. This body will also need a board structure which will be open to the same kind of politically-motivated appointments which have marred the ABC Board over the years.
That’s a bit of a journo’s argument against the proposal, one which my company, News Limited, has made in its submission to the Convergence Review. The strongest arguments are made on behalf of the audiences, and I would urge everyone with an interest to look at the submission made by Google, which also owns YouTube.
One nifty side point Google has made goes to the hilarious impracticality of imposing government regulation on YouTube, where in every second one hour of footage is being uploaded by users around the world. You would need quite a big government department to check it all.
Google makes the good point that it is absurd to treat YouTube – where the content is created not by editors but users – in the same way as a media outlet. The great thing about YouTube is that the very freedom it represents has been used by creative people, who in the past would have had to audition before a roomful of middle aged anglo-saxon TV execs, with a direct portal to share there talents with the outside world.
They are people such as Sydney’s Natalie Tran, whose wry video discussions of social trends have amassed a stunning 55 million views, and former airport ground crew worker Rob Nixon, a food nut whose cooking show Nicko’s Kitchen has been watched 37 million times. You don’t need to be told to run Australian content by a government agency with these sorts of people doing it for themselves. Anyway all media are already subjects to laws of defamation, anti-vilification, classification involving pornography, national security restrictions involving terrorism – so adding another layer of restrictions is unwelcome in the extreme.
And the three things the Convergence Review seeks to guarantee - greater openness, greater competition, greater innovation – all exist more than ever before.
If anything, a more credible argument can now be mounted not for the extension of regulation, but for its abolition, with an end to the content restrictions on free to air television due to the explosion in audience choice in the new media landscape..
The punchline is that all of this silliness has been brought to us from a Government which is spending more than $40 billion taxpayer dollars to build a national broadband network, ostensibly to harness the full potential of the digital economy - the very economy directly threatened by the clapped-out, safari-suited, interventionist concepts in this strangely dated Convergence Review.
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…