Context for the reform principles

4.3 The eight guiding principles outlined in this chapter provide the framework for the recommendations for reform in this Final Report. The principles are derived from existing laws, codes and regulations, as well as principles that have been identified in other relevant reviews and government reports. This chapter outlines the basis of each of these principles in legislation and other policy documents, and highlights relevant comments from stakeholders in this Inquiry.

4.4 A statement of guiding principles is considered important for three reasons. First, it acknowledges that, while classification is an inherently contested space, characterised by strong views on the relative importance attached to particular principles—for example, individual rights and freedoms as compared to the protection of children from potentially harmful media content—it is possible for policy makers and regulators to proceed on the basis of a common community understanding of underlying interests and principles. The National Classification Code has played an important role in this regard.

4.5 Secondly, it allows discussion of policy goals and policy instruments to be uncoupled. The ALRC proposes the application of a diverse range of policy instruments be applied to a new National Classification Scheme, involving a mix of direct government regulation, co-regulation, and industry self-regulation. As the Australian Public Service Commission has observed:

Each main category of policy instrument has something valuable to offer but they generally have substantial limitations as a stand-alone strategy for government intervention. Further, each category of policy instrument works well in only a restricted range of circumstances—no single instrument type works across-the-board.[1]

4.6 Thirdly, as changes in the context of media convergence will be difficult to anticipate, there is a need for regulation that can be adaptive to changes in the media environment. A statement of guiding principles allows for flexibility in the application of policy instruments, while being anchored in an understanding of policy goals that can remain more constant over time.

4.7 In developing the guiding principles, the ALRC drew upon:

  • the existing National Classification Code;
  • the objectives of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth);
  • the Terms of Reference of this Inquiry;
  • key principles identified in submissions received in response to the Issues Paper and the Discussion Paper; and
  • other relevant statements of principles for Australian government regulation, such as those identified in the Best Practice Regulation Handbook.[2]

4.8 The ALRC also noted principles for convergent media regulation being identified in other relevant inquiries, most notably the Convergence Review being conducted by an independent committee through the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE). The Convergence Review Committee has observed that the current range of reviews of media and communications being conducted for the Australian government provide ‘an opportunity to create a new convergent framework for content and communications which will better position Australia in a global digital economy’.[3]

4.9 The principles that the Convergence Review has identified as being central to future policy and regulatory frameworks that should apply to the converged media and communications landscape in Australia include:

  • providing reduced, better-targeted regulation;
  • providing a technology neutral approach that can adapt to new services, platforms and technologies;
  • promoting emerging services and innovation;
  • ensuring consistent content standards across platforms;
  • enhancing Australian and local content;
  • supporting media diversity;
  • reducing compliance costs for industry;
  • providing certainty for the market into the future.[4]

4.10 Public feedback on the guiding principles was also sought through the ALRC’s public discussion forum. The forum was hosted on the ALRC web site from 15 August 2011 to 2 September 2011, and attracted 101 comments from 29 participants.[5] Responses to the guiding principles have been incorporated into the discussion below.

[1] Australian Public Service Commission, Smarter Policy: Choosing Policy Instruments and Working with Others to Influence Behaviour (2009), 12.

[2] Australian Government, Best Practice Regulation Handbook (2010).

[3] Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Convergence Review: Interim Report (2011), v.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See ALRC Classification Discussion Forum, <>, at 9 November 2011.