Australia to introduce 'prominence framework' for local broadcast services

Wednesday, November 29th, 2023 
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Modernising Australia’s media laws – for all Australians

The Albanese Government is delivering on its election commitment to support access to local TV and free sports coverage in the streaming era, with legislation to establish a new prominence framework and reform the anti-siphoning scheme introduced to Parliament today.

The Communications Legislation Amendment (Prominence and Anti-siphoning) Bill 2023 marks an important step in bringing the Australia’s regulatory framework for media services into the 21st century.

The new prominence framework will ensure consumers can easily find and access free television broadcasting services and broadcasting video-on-demand services on connected television devices.

Free-to-air television broadcasting services play a vital role in reflecting Australian culture and supporting our democratic processes by providing local news, current affairs, emergency broadcasting, sport, entertainment and events of public significance – to all Australians and for free.

The prominence framework will introduce ‘must carry’ obligations to reduce the risk of free-to-air broadcasting services being crowded out by the larger, international services operating in the Australian market.

Following a transition period, manufacturers of connected television devices will have to meet minimum prominence requirements for new devices supplied to the Australian market. The requirements will not apply retrospectively to existing television sets, and will not affect hardware or other ancillary equipment, such as remote controls.

The framework will enhance consumer choice and promote a level playing field for Australian free-to-air broadcasters, but will not constrain device manufacturers from promoting or recommending other content and services, or affect the search or customisation functions of a device.

Exposure draft regulations will be released in early 2024 to provide greater detail on the specific prominence requirements.

The Government is also taking steps to modernise the anti-siphoning scheme – which has been in place for close to 30 years – with a ‘broadcast safety net’ approach that affirms the ongoing importance of free-to-air broadcasting services for access to televised coverage of iconic sporting events for all Australians.

A review of the scheme found that its objective to promote free access to televised coverage of events of national importance and cultural significance remains relevant and appropriate, but that the scheme needs to be broadened to incorporate online services.

Streaming services are not currently subject to the scheme, and there is no legal impediment to them acquiring the rights to iconic sporting events ahead of local free-to-air broadcasters.

This regulatory gap risks iconic events slipping behind online paywalls, and means Australians could miss out on sports coverage they might otherwise enjoy for free.

The reforms will expand the scope of the restriction on the acquisition of rights under the anti-siphoning scheme to include online services, as well as subscription television broadcasting licensees.

The Government also proposes to modernise and expand the anti-siphoning list with respect to women’s sports and Para-sports, consistent with the findings of the review of the anti-siphoning scheme.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP:

“The Albanese Government is delivering on its election commitment to modernise media laws so all Australians can stay informed, entertained and connected – no matter where they live or what they earn.

“Our existing analogue laws haven’t been updated to reflect the digital age. The rise of global streaming services means Australians could miss out on the free content and services they have enjoyed for generations, with free local services becoming harder to find on connected devices and content slipping behind online paywalls.

“This Bill promotes equitable access by Australians to free TV and sports coverage in the age of streaming services and connected TV devices. These changes help support a strong and sustainable media industry that delivers for all Australians.

“The new prominence framework will ensure Australians can easily find and access the local free-to-air television services they know, trust and value.

“Modernising the anti-siphoning scheme will mean the iconic sporting events and moments that bring us together as a nation won’t slip behind the online paywalls of international streaming services.

“These reforms have been informed by extensive consultation with industry and the community. The Government thanks the many organisations and Australians who shared their views and made considered submissions”.

Links: Australian Government