Enforcement under the Broadcasting Services Act

Television content

16.21 Under the Broadcasting Services Act, commercial television content is regulated under a system of industry-developed codes of practice, which must be approved by the ACMA.[14]

16.22 The ACMA acts as an independent adjudicator where complaints about matters relating to codes of practice—including under codes of practice notified by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Special Broadcasting Service[15]—are not resolved between the complainant and the television station.

16.23 Where ACMA finds a breach of a code of practice, it may take enforcement action by imposing an additional condition on a licence or accepting an enforceable undertaking.[16]

Online content

16.24 Under schs 5 and 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act, the ACMA investigates complaints about online content that the complainant believes to be ‘prohibited content’ or ‘potential prohibited content’. Prohibited content and potential prohibited content are defined with reference to the classification categories in the Classification Act. The ACMA and content or hosting service providers may apply to the Board for classification of content.[17] The steps the ACMA may take following an investigation, including the issuing of a take-down notice, are summarised in Chapter 2.

16.25 Schedules 5 and 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act provide for a range of offences, punishable by criminal, civil and administrative penalties.

16.26 Schedule 5 contains criminal offences concerning contravention of ‘online provider rules’,[18] including contravening an industry code or industry standard.[19] The maximum penalty for contravening an online provider rule or an ACMA direction with respect to an online provider rule is 50 penalty units ($5,500)[20] for an individual and $27,500 for a body corporate. These are continuing offences, so that a person who contravenes the provisions is guilty of a separate offence in respect of each day during which the contravention continues.[21]

16.27 Schedule 7 provides criminal, civil and administrative penalties for non-compliance with ‘designated content/hosting service provider rules’, which include the rules relating to prohibited content.[22] It is a criminal offence to contravene a designated content/hosting service provider rule[23] or a written direction from the ACMA with respect to a contravention of such a rule.[24] The maximum penalty for these offences is 100 penalty units ($11,000) for an individual and $55,000 for a body corporate. Again, these are continuing offences.

16.28 In addition, sch 7 provides that these contraventions are ‘civil penalty provisions’ and a person is deemed to commit a separate contravention in respect of each day during which the contravention continues.[25] Such penalties must not exceed the maximum penalty that could have been imposed on conviction for the corresponding criminal offence.[26]

16.29 Finally, a range of administrative ‘quasi-penalties’[27] apply to contraventions of designated content/hosting service provider rules. For example, where there is a contravention, the ACMA may apply to the Federal Court for an order that the person cease providing the designated content/hosting service.[28] In addition, contraventions of civil penalty provisions may have an effect on related ACMA decisions under the Broadcasting Services Act—for example, in relation to whether a company is a suitable licensee or a suitable applicant for a licence, such as a subscription television broadcasting licence.[29]

[14] In addition, licence conditions regulate matters such as tobacco and therapeutic goods advertisements, sponsorship announcements on community television and the broadcast of political matter; and compulsory standards determined by the ACMA regulate Australian content and children’s program content.

[15]Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 (Cth) s 8(e)(i); Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991 (Cth) s 10(1)(j).

[16]Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) s 205W.

[17] Ibid sch 7 cl 22.

[18] See Ibid sch 5 cls 79, 82, 83.

[19] For example, provisions of the Internet Industry Association, Internet Industry Code of Practice: Content Services Code for Industry Co-regulation in the Area of Content Services (2008), obliging internet service providers to make Internet Industry Association Family Friendly Filters available.

[20]Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) sch 5 cls 82–83.

[21] Ibid sch 5 cl 86.

[22] Ibid sch 7 cl 53(6).

[23] Ibid sch 7 cl 106.

[24] Ibid sch 7 cl 108.

[25] Ibid sch 7 cls 107, 108(7)–(8).

[26] Ibid s 205F(4).

[27] Administrative ‘quasi-penalties’ have been defined as those administrative actions that require the exercise of discretion that goes beyond a mechanistic application of the relevant legislation—such as licensing decisions—as opposed to true administrative penalties where monetary penalties are imposed administratively as with, for example, charges and interest payable under the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cth): see Australian Law Reform Commission, Principled Regulation: Federal Civil and Administrative Penalties in Australia, ALRC Report 95 (2002), [2.124], [2.146].

[28]Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) sch 7 cl 110.

[29] Ibid s 98.