There is a substantial regulatory framework for access to broadcast television in Australia, particularly in regards to captioning.
For more specific information about the regulation of free-to-air television captioning and subscription television captioning, visit the following pages:
Audio description regulation
Audio description (AD) is an additional audio track broadcast with a program which provides a description of visual elements for those who are blind or vision impaired. Although it is widely available oversees, there is no AD available on Australian television.
The Australia's national public broadcaster, the ABC, conducted a trial in 2012 to determine how AD could be broadcast in Australia.
Following the trial, the ABC provided a technical report to the Australian Government, and this was released to the public in October 2013. Consumers have been campaigning and lobbying for an ongoing service on the ABC. More information about this campaign can be found at the dedicated audio description campaign website.
Several members of Blind Citizens Australia have also lodged complaints with the Australian Human Rights Commission against the ABC claiming discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act for failing to provide an ongoing audio description service.
Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth)
The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) (BSA) is the central piece of legislation dealing with television broadcasting. The BSA allows the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to issue a range of licences to broadcast television, and to specify obligations surrounding broadcasts in those licences. These licences include commercial licences for the major free-to-air commercial broadcasters and subscription television licences for the subscription broadcasters.
In Australia, there are currently more than 40 commercial broadcast television licensees, including stations controlled by the Nine Network, the Seven Network, Network Ten, Southern Cross Broadcasting, Prime Television, WIN and NBN. There are three subscription television broadcasting television licensees, FOXTEL, Optus, and Telstra. There are also the two national broadcasters, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS).
When digital broadcasting began in Australia in 2001, the BSA made it compulsory for the primary free-to-air channels to caption all programs broadcast between 6pm and 10.30pm, and all news and current affairs programs. Subsequent to that, a series of agreements brokered by the Australian Human Rights Commission saw increased levels of captioning between 6am and midnight. In June 2012, the BSA was amended to include quotas for 6am to midnight, with primary channels required to provide 90% captioning during these hours by June 2013, 95% by June 2014, and 100% by June 2015.
The BSA was also amended in June 2012 to include mandatory caption quotas for subscription television for the first time. Channels are divided into 5 categories - Movies, General Entertainment, News, Sport and Music, with different quotas applying to each.
The BSA amendments also gave the ACMA the power to develop and enforce guidelines for caption quality.
Media Access Australia has produced a document to explain these changes in detail:
- Broadcast Services Act amendments explanation (DOC 304 KB)
- Broadcast Services Act amendments explanation (PDF 512 KB)
Codes of Practice
The current Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice and the Subscription Broadcast Television Codes of Practice operate under Section 123 of the BSA. Section 123 requires Free TV Australia and the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA), the relevant industry representative groups, to develop Codes of Practice in consultation with the ACMA. Section 123A requires ACMA to periodically review both Codes. The Codes are the primary co-regulatory instruments in the Australian television industry.
Top of page