Introduction: Reform to the regulatory framework of the Australian media should be unambiguously directed towards liberalisation of the sector. It is important to place the relatively recent, and highly publicised changes in production, distribution and consumption of media made possible by communications technology in a context of long term and continuous radical media change. Technological and commercial innovation have provided Australians with a multitude of choice over the content we consume, the way we receive and display it, and our capacity to store it for future consumption. Not only this, but the cost of production has rapidly dropped for seemingly mature industries like print, which has allowed niche and specialist publications to flourish. Never before have Australians had access to so much information packaged in so many formats.
Introduction: The Australian media is heavily regulated by a wide range of legislation and industry codes. Ownership, content, structure and reach are all subject to government interference. These regulations are complemented by numerous government interventions and subsidies – film financing, public broadcasting, arts grants, tax concessions. The Productivity Commission report into broadcasting services argued that the current approach ‘reflects a history of political, technical, industrial, economic and social compromises. This legacy of quid pro quos has created a policy framework that is inward looking, anti-competitive and restrictive.’
The regulatory and subsidy labyrinth has been a recipe for inefficient and inequitable outcomes. It represents failures in Australian governments’ attempts to manage the introduction of new technologies and services, to foster‘diversity’ and equal access and unnecessary measures to prevent monopoly.
Relatively recent far-reaching technological changes in media content production and delivery have exacerbated the adverse efficiency effects of this unsatisfactory policy progression. The upshot has made it more urgent to implement a major adaptation of the sector’s regulatory framework. As the Institute of Public Affairs has long been involved in the economic, social and political debate over media and communications policy, we welcome the chance to comment on the government’s media reform discussion paper in the light of these developments.
Introduction: Australian spectrum policy is largely characterised by a ‘command and control’ approach to allocation. Government allocates rights, conditions of their use, and the services which may be provided. Such rights can rarely be traded, and are subject to continuous government supervision and regulation. Such a top-down approach is ill-suited to managing the implementation and diffusion of technological innovations, nowhere more so than in the field of communications and information technology. While such a framework may satisfactorily – although certainly not ideally – manage a limited and static array of services, its capacity to manage the allocation of new and future technologies is limited.