Media convergence and ‘broken concepts’ in legislation

3.53 In its paper Broken Concepts: The Australian Communications Legislative Landscape, the ACMA identified seven broad regulatory consequences of convergence for the media domains for which it has regulatory responsibility.[46] Insofar as these concern the Broadcasting Services Act and its provisions as they relate to media content regulation, they are also relevant to the ALRC’s Inquiry.

3.54 The seven ‘broken concepts’ which the ACMA identified were:

  1. misalignment of policy and legislative constructs with market changes, technological changes and consumer behaviour;
  2. inconsistencies in the treatment of devices and content, and gaps in the existing framework’s coverage of new forms of content and applications—for example, the very different treatment of broadcasting services as defined under the Broadcasting Services Act and programs delivered over the internet;
  3. misplaced emphasis on the legislative framework that skews regulatory activity towards traditional media and communications activity;
  4. blurring of boundaries between historically distinct devices, services and industry sectors, leading to inconsistent treatment of like content, devices or services;
  5. piecemeal responses to new issues, which has added unnecessary layers of complexity to legislation;
  6. questions regarding the applicability of mechanisms for enforcing existing community standards over new forms of content delivery; and
  7. institutional ambiguity regarding which government entity has responsibility for particular industries or activities, meaning that either several regulators or no regulators have a clear mandate to address market or consumer concerns.[47]

3.55 Similar problems can be identified in the current classification scheme. It ‘over-classifies’ some media, such as DVDs and computer games, while other media, such as mobile apps, are not required to be classified at all. It distinguishes classification guidelines according to the form of media and this does not easily map onto new devices and types of media content.

3.56 One of the key concepts developed in this report is that of platform neutrality. Discussed in more detail in Chapter 4, it is based upon the premise that the primary purpose of a National Classification Scheme is the classification of content. In the context of media convergence, this points to need to minimise platform-based distinctions to the greatest degree possible, in order to maintain an adaptive regulatory framework that can be oriented towards future media developments.

[46] Australian Communications and Media Authority, Broken Concepts: The Australian Communications Legislative Landscape (2011).

[47] Ibid, 7.