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Monday, 07 November 2011 21:10

Convergence review: Draft report next month


After eight months of industry consultation, public hearings and issue paper discussions, the Convergence Review Committee says it will issue a draft report before the end of the year, and seek more feedback before publishing the definitive document.

Speaking at the Communications Policy and Research Forum in Sydney, committee chairman and former IBM Australia managing director Glen Boreham said the five separate discussion papers issued six weeks ago on primary convergence areas had generated further discussion on policy directions.

The committee's draft report next month provide a final oppotunity industry to provide input into the review's long awaited final report.

The review, which is looking at the changing requirements for regulation across previously siloed industries in broadcasting, telecommunications and media. It will make recommendations for policy in areas as disparate as spectrum allocation and management, Australian and local content regulation, media diversity and competition, as well as community standards ranging from privacy issues to content classification and media bias.

The review was announced last December, although Mr Boreham was appointed its chair only in March. From its its outset the committee has sought to find means of applying policy that was flexible and largely agnostic to platforms, technologies and devices.

The review will "a new framework for addressing the media, one that gets away from the old silos of the past such as broadcasting and telecommunications, towards a framework that is more functionally descriptive, for example, one that could focus on layers such as infrastructure, networks, content, applications and devices, rather than industries; or possibly content value chains from production to channels to devices and ultimately, to consumers," Mr Boreham said.

An over-arching theme of the review is "the idea of 'regulatory parity' - the idea that like services should be regulated in a like manner regardless of the underlying technology, platform or business model," he said.

"These questions of 'regulatory parity' are relevant not just to Australian and local content obligations, but also to issues such as media diversity, including cross media ownership, licensing and planning, and community standards in the media."
At a time when most mainstream media hijacked itself with a UK phone-hackjing scandal - prompting a somewhat thin independent inquiry into the media in Australia chaired by former Federal Court Justice Ray Finkelstein - the main game has always been the convergence review.

The convergence review effectively looks at ways to replace regulation and legislation enacted 20 years ago which is struggling to adapt to technology and industry changes. It will shape the biggest reforms ever undertaken across sectors worth tens of billions of dollars.

Mr Boreham said the roll-out of the National Broadband Network and the switchover to Digital television meant that Australians were well placed to take advantage of new the technologies - both as consumers and businesses.

The technology changes - the internet, mobility, console games and a host of other influences - would have a big impact on Australian content regulation, and on the ability of locals to tell local stories.

"The implications of convergence for Australian content and culture are also enormous," Mr Boreham said.

"When audiences can watch, listen to or read content from anywhere at any time, then the role of the media in forming and nurturing our national identity will have to adapt."

"The need for shared experience will remain, but it is incumbent on us to get the settings right to ensure Australian stories are there to be shared."

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