3 October 2001
Definition of Open Narrowcasting radio services
The Australian Broadcasting Authority is seeking submissions on a proposal to clarify the definition of open narrowcasting radio services.
Under the proposal, the ABA has prepared a draft clarification that will provide certainty about the category of service that certain types of broadcasting services fall into under the Broadcasting Services Act. It does this by deeming services that meet the criteria set out in the clarification to be open narrowcasting radio services.
"It is in the interests of everyone in the radio industry to have a high level of certainty as to the category of service that a broadcasting service falls into," said ABA Chairman Professor David Flint. "If made, this clarification would increase the level of certainty for a significant number of niche broadcasting services which are either currently being provided in the community or which may be provided in the future. I would encourage all interested parties to make a submission to the ABA about the proposal."
The services covered by the draft clarification are racing radio services, non-English language services, religious services, services provided to cover special events, services provided for a limited period, information services (such as stock market reports and weather services), pre-recorded looped services and services provided using only a subcarrier channel (ancillary services).
The clarification also makes clear that a service provided using a one watt transmitter is not an open narrowcasting service by reason only of the power of the transmitter used to provide the service.
The ABA has prepared the draft clarification following consideration of submissions received in response to its discussion paper Open Narrowcasting Radio Services: Clarifying the Criteria, which was released in March 2001, and consultation with the radio industry, the racing radio industry and other interested persons and organisations.
Copies of the draft clarification and the ABA's Open Narrowcasting Discussion Paper are available on the ABA's website at www.aba.gov.au/radio/narrowcasting, or may be obtained from the ABA. Submissions on the draft clarification should reach the ABA by 5.00pm Friday 26 October 2001.
Media contact: Donald Robertson, ABA Manager Media and PR on (02) 9334 7980
Open narrowcasting is one of three categories of free-to-air broadcasting services established by the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 [the Act]; the other two are commercial broadcasting and community broadcasting. Open narrowcasting services are defined in section 18 of the Act as services whose reception is limited:
- by being targeted to a special interest group; or
- by being intended only for limited locations, for example, arenas or business premises; or
- by being provided during a limited period or to cover a special event; or
- because it provides programs of limited appeal; or
- for some other reason.
Only one of these criteria needs to be satisfied for a service to be an open narrowcasting service. However, it is not always clear to service providers where the line is to be drawn between the different categories of broadcasting services provided for under the Act, in particular, between an open narrowcasting radio service and a commercial radio service. The result is considerable uncertainty in the market place about what is or is not allowed to be broadcast as part of an open narrowcasting radio service.
Section 19 of the Act provides a mechanism to assist in distinguishing between the categories. Section 19 provides that:
- The ABA may, by notice in the Gazette:
- determine additional criteria to those specified in sections 14 to 18;
- clarify the criteria specified in sections 14 to 18; for the purposes of distinguishing between categories of broadcasting services.
- Different criteria or clarifications may be determined or made for radio services and television services.
- The Minister may give specific directions to the ABA as to the making of determinations and clarifications, and the ABA must observe those directions.
In April 2000, the ABA decided to exercise its powers under section 19 to bring greater clarity to the concept of open narrowcasting radio services. The clarification prepared by the ABA will apply to radio services only. The Minister has not given a direction to the ABA on this matter.
A broadcasting service that does not satisfy the criteria in the draft clarification may still fit into the category of open narrowcasting services, as long as it satisfies at least one of the section 18 criteria.
Open narrowcasting services and commercial broadcasting services
The open narrowcasting category is intended to encourage the development of niche broadcasting services that might otherwise not be available in a market, thereby increasing the overall diversity of free-to-air broadcasting services.
In contrast to commercial broadcasting services, open narrowcasting services are subject to relatively low levels of regulatory control. This reflects the regulatory policy in section 5 of the Act which provides that different levels of regulatory control should be applied across the range of broadcasting services according to the degree of influence that they are able to exert in shaping community views in Australia.
Commercial radio broadcasting services, on the other hand, which are intended to appeal to the general public, are presumed to exert more influence in shaping community views than open narrowcasting services and are consequently subject to higher levels of regulation.
Key differences between the regulatory regimes applying to open narrowcasting and commercial broadcasting services are as follows. It is not necessary to obtain a broadcasting service licence to provide an open narrowcasting service (a class licence provides standing authorisation) and there are no ownership restrictions on open narrowcasting services. Commercial services, on the other hand, require an individual broadcasting service licence from the ABA and are subject to ownership and control limitations, such as the rule that one person may control a maximum of two services in a market.
Commercial radio broadcasting services that operate in the broadcasting services bands are also subject to a licence fee tax calculated as a percentage of the gross earnings of the service. The licence fee tax does not apply to open narrowcasting services.
Commercial radio broadcasting services enjoy a freedom of choice about format that is denied to open narrowcasting services with comparable audience reach. Commercial radio broadcasting services that use the broadcasting services bands also enjoy greater long-term security of access to their channels. These advantages are reflected in the relative prices bid for commercial and open narrowcasting services in price-based allocation exercises since 1992. Providers of open narrowcasting radio generally pay a far lower entry cost to markets, reflecting format (and perhaps also tenure) restrictions.
Under section 133 of the Act, it is a serious offence to provide a commercial radio broadcasting service without a licence.
Submissions may be made to the ABA in the following ways:
firstname.lastname@example.org (Email submissions should be in MS Word)
(02) 9334 7799
Open Narrowcasting Submission
Australian Broadcasting Authority
PO Box Q500
QVB Post Office NSW 1230
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