18 December 2008
ACMA to review Commercial Radio Standards
The Australian Communications and Media Authority has decided to undertake a comprehensive review of the three commercial radio standards introduced by the Australian Broadcasting Authority in 2000.
Introduced after the ‘Cash for Comment' inquiry, the standards govern:
- the disclosure of commercial agreements entered into by presenters of current affairs programs and their sponsors;
- the need to distinguish advertisements from other programs; and
- compliance by licensees with their regulatory obligations.
‘ACMA has decided to review the commercial radio standards to ensure they deliver appropriate and contemporary community safeguards, given the current standards have been in operation for over seven years,’ said Chris Chapman, ACMA Chairman. ‘The review will focus on the provision of current affairs programs, including talkback, seeking to ensure that providers of commercial radio broadcasting services remain responsive to the need to treat advertising and other sponsored content in a way that does not lead listeners to believe that it is editorial comment, free from commercial influence.’
Initially, ACMA is undertaking a comprehensive program of research directed toward establishing an evidence base for the review. This includes research into community attitudes and comparative research on international approaches to regulation.
ACMA expects to conduct three rounds of public consultation, commencing with the release of an issues paper and a call for submissions in the first half of 2009. The issues paper will be built on findings from the research.
‘ACMA has been aware of industry concerns about a range of operational issues within the existing standards which merit review. In addition, the review is expected to consider what model of regulation is most appropriately applied to advertising in the evolving commercial radio market, as well as commercial agreements that have the potential to influence the content of current affairs programs’, said Mr Chapman.
In undertaking the review, ACMA will examine contemporary business models operating in the commercial radio sector and changes to the commercial radio industry and to the regulatory environment since the standards commenced in 2001. Consideration will also be given to international approaches to similar issues.
Information on the scope of the review and expected timeline is set out below.
Media contact: Donald Robertson, ACMA Media Manager, on (02) 9334 7980.
The Commercial Radio Inquiry
The commercial radio standards were an outcome of the Commercial Radio Inquiry (commonly referred to as ‘cash for comment’) conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) in 1999—2000 into certain commercial agreements between a number of current affairs program presenters and sponsors. After considering the material presented to it during the extensive inquiry, the ABA found that:
- there had been a systemic failure at four major talkback stations to ensure the effective operation of self-regulation, particularly in relation to current affairs programs;
- within a significant proportion of current affairs programs, the commercial radio codes of practice were not operating to provide appropriate community safeguards; and
- the effort made by the licensees examined during the inquiry to ensure compliance with the codes of practice had been inadequate.
The final report of the Commercial Radio Inquiry can be found on the ACMA website.
Commencement of the commercial radio standards
In light of these findings, on 21 November 2000 the ABA determined under subsection 125(1) of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA) three program standards to apply to commercial radio licensees:
- the Broadcasting Services (Commercial Radio Current Affairs Disclosure) Standard 2000;
- the Broadcasting Services (Commercial Radio Advertising) Standard 2000; and
- the Broadcasting Services (Commercial Radio Compliance Program) Standard 2000.
The commercial radio standards took effect on 15 January 2001. They relate to disclosure of commercial agreements by presenters of current affairs programs, the need to distinguish advertisements from other programs and the establishment of compliance programs by commercial radio licensees. Unlike codes of practice, compliance with standards is a condition of a broadcaster’s licence.
The objectives of the standards are to:
- encourage commercial radio broadcasting licensees to be responsive to the need for a fair and accurate coverage of matters of public interest by requiring the disclosure of commercial agreements that have the potential to affect the content of current affairs programs;
- encourage commercial radio broadcasting licensees to respect community standards by ensuring advertising is clearly distinguishable from all other programs; and
- ensure community safeguards operate effectively by promoting compliance with the requirements of the Act, standards and the codes.
These objectives relate to the relevant objects of the BSA, as follows:
- to encourage providers of commercial and community broadcasting services to be responsive to the need for a fair and accurate coverage of matters of public interest and for an appropriate coverage of matters of local significance (subsection 3(g)); and
- to encourage providers of broadcasting services to respect community standards in the provision of program material (subsection 3(h)).
The Explanatory Memorandum to the BSA records:
…the reference in this object to a fair and accurate coverage of matters of public interest recognises that for most people broadcasting is a major source of information on issues and events in the world … It is intended that, in the reporting of events and the presentation of issues, providers of broadcasting services will report the facts and facilitate the presentation of the range of views on any particular issue.
Copies of the standards are available.
Scope of the review of the commercial radio standards
The review will consider the appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency of current regulatory arrangements under the commercial radio standards, including the extent to which these achieve their current objects and are consistent with the objects and regulatory policy of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA).
Specifically the review will consider:
- Community attitudes, industry practice and the regulatory environment in relation to commercial arrangements that may affect the content of current affairs programs on commercial radio.
- The extent to which the commercial radio standards have achieved their objects, and the experience and performance of the commercial radio sector in meeting current regulatory requirements.
- The most effective regulatory response to the issues that emerge during the review, including alternative regulatory approaches.
The review will also consider any other relevant matters that may arise through the review process.
In undertaking the review, ACMA will have regard to contemporary business models operating in the commercial radio sector, changes to the commercial radio industry and to the regulatory environment since the standards were introduced, and possible future developments associated with converging media, including the introduction of digital radio. Consideration will also be given to international approaches to similar issues.
ACMA will consult with commercial radio licensees, interested parties and the general public in the course of the review process.
Process and timeline for the review
ACMA will release an Issues Paper in the first half of 2009, inviting submissions to the review.
ACMA expects to release an Options Paper later in 2009 inviting submissions on any specific options for regulation that emerge from ACMA’s research program and from consultation on the Issues Paper.
If ACMA decides that regulatory change is necessary, it will release for public comment draft variations to the existing standards or a draft of any new standard, along with draft explanatory statements. ACMA will also seek public comment if it decides to revoke one or more of the existing standards. It is expected that this consultation will occur in late 2009.
The review is expected be concluded in the first half of 2010.