The principal media access regulators in Australia are:
- Australian Communications and Media Authority
- Australian Human Rights Commission
- Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is Australia’s media and communications regulator. It was formed when the former Australian Broadcasting Authority and Australian Communications Authority were merged in 2005. The ACMA has a broad range of functions including those relating to:
- telecommunications regulation
- management of the radiofrequency spectrum
- regulation of broadcasting
- regulation of datacasting
- regulation of internet content
The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is able to give general directions to the ACMA relating to its broadcasting, datacasting, and content functions, but otherwise the ACMA is largely independent of the Government.
The only media access requirements which the ACMA has the authority to regulate on are those which are defined by legislation (specifically, the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) (‘the BSA’), the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (Cth), or the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth)) or by Code of Practice operating under one of those acts.
At present, the only requirements defined by legislation are for limited television captioning services under the BSA. As such, the ACMA only has very limited power to regulate access to media. For more information on what these requirements are, see our Free-to-air television captioning regulation page.
The ACMA issues licences to media providers which include conditions of engagement and will regulate according to that license.
For example, a commercial TV broadcaster which does not meet its captioning requirements under the BSA would be in breach of their licence conditions, and may face penalties which could include a fine (called a sanction) or even having their licence cancelled.
For information on how to make a complaint to the ACMA, visit our Complaining to the Australian Communications and Media Authority page.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) oversees Australia’s human rights obligations, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (‘the DDA’). The AHRC is neither a governmental agency nor a court, but has the power to investigate complaints of disability discrimination. In doing so, the AHRC often helps to negotiate agreements between parties which reduce disability discrimination.
The AHRC has the power to provide Temporary Exemptions to the DDA to individuals or organisations which commit to reducing disability discrimination. These individuals or organisations are made exempt from the provisions of the DDA, and a complaint of discrimination against them will not be considered until the Temporary Exemption expires (or if the commitments are broken).
Through these Temporary Exemption agreements, the AHRC has emerged as the dominant media access regulator in Australia. Examples of the work done by the AHRC can be found on our Free-to-air television captioning regulation and Subscription television captioning regulation pages.
The AHRC is unable to impose penalties, and if a Temporary Exemption’s commitments are broken, this simply means that the applicant becomes open to complaint again. Where the AHRC has been a major source for progress on access to media; its functions as a regulator are quite limited.
For information on how to make a complaint to the AHRC, visit our Complaining to the Australian Human Rights Commission page.
The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) is responsible for developing and executing the Commonwealth’s policy on access to media. While the DBCDE is not a regulator, it has been the major promoter of improved access to media and its regulation.
The role of the DBCDE is to provide policy to the Commonwealth Government on how this regulation should be conducted.
The DBCDE concluded the Media Access Review in 2010. We examine the Media Access Review in significant detail in our Inquiries and Reviews section, but in short, the Media Access Review will see a new era of regulation of media access in Australia.
Highlights of the Media Access Review include
- legislated captioning targets for both free-to-air and subscription television,
- a significant trial of audio description on ABC1 in the second half of 2011
- the requirement that television captioning be of ‘adequate quality’
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