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Thursday, 28 June 2001
Page: 25330

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (10:32 AM) —I table a revised explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2001 makes a number of relatively minor but important amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Radiocommunications Act 1992.

These amendments relate to:

· High Definition Television (HDTV) programming;

· the allocation of additional commercial television licences in underserved remote or regional markets; and

· anti-siphoning arrangements to facilitate the coverage of certain sporting events on pay television.

There are also some technical amendments to certain provisions relating to datacasting services.

Currently the Broadcasting Services Act requires that any HDTV programming must be exactly the same as Standard Definition Television (SDTV) programming. There is no flexibility to allow some limited differences between HDTV and SDTV programs, as there is between SDTV and analog programs.

The bill will enable the Australian Broadcasting Authority (the ABA) to grant an exemption authorising broadcasters to transmit HDTV demonstration programs produced solely for the purpose of allowing the benefits of HDTV to be demonstrated on the HDTV version of a television service. Those programs can be up to 60 minutes in duration, and can be repeated. This amendment will enable HDTV demonstration material to be demonstrated during the day. Retailers can use this material to show consumers the benefits of HDTV receivers at point of purchase.

The exemption will be able to be provided for up to one year with the ability to apply for renewal. The ABA will be able to specify the period and the broadcasters to which the exemption applies and specify conditions, such as the hours in which the demonstration programs may be shown or the number of times the program can be repeated in a given period.

The bill will also allow broadcasters to provide different advertising in the HDTV version of a television service in the first two years of digital television broadcasting. This will provide time for broadcasters to make the necessary investment and put in place the necessary equipment to provide the same range of HDTV local advertising as they provide in SDTV.

These changes increase the flexibility of the digital television framework with respect to HDTV without undermining the integrity of the simulcast and HDTV quota rules.

Section 38B of the Broadcasting Services Act provides a mechanism for the incumbent broadcasters in licence areas where there are only two commercial services, to seek a licence to provide a third service in digital mode. The Act currently provides that the broadcasters may, within a specified period:

· jointly seek the licence;

· apply alone if the other declines to seek the licence; or

· in the absence of an agreement, bid for the licence at auction.

The current provisions require both broadcasters to indicate their intention in a joint statement to the ABA. If either broadcaster refuses to respond, the other is unable to proceed to allocation of the licence. This means that individual broadcasters are in a position to prevent the allocation of a licence for a third service in these underserved areas through non-participation in the joint election process for a third licence.

The bill amends the Act to ensure that a third licence can be allocated under section 38B, by enabling the existing licensees to apply either jointly or separately.

In addition, section 73A provides an exemption from the normal control provisions, which limit a broadcaster to owning only one licence in a licence area, where the broadcaster has been allocated a section 38B licence to provide a third digital service in the same licence area. However, in a limited number of cases involving overlapping licence areas, section 73A does not provide an exemption from the control provisions for all licensees.

The bill amends section 73A of the Act to ensure that an incumbent broadcaster allocated an additional licence under section 38B would not be in breach of the control provisions in these situations.

The bill also provides for the introduction of automatic 6 week de-listing of events under the anti-siphoning regime. The objective of the Parliament in establishing the anti-siphoning regime was to prevent subscription broadcasting licensees from acquiring the exclusive rights to broadcast important events that should be freely available to the public.

The Broadcasting Services Act does, however, give the Minister discretion to remove an event from the anti-siphoning list. The Minister is able to `de-list' events where, for example, where free-to-air broadcasters have had an opportunity to acquire the right to televise an event, but none of them has acquired the right within a reasonable time.

In practice, events on the anti-siphoning list are unlikely to be de-listed until it can be demonstrated that free-to-air broadcasters have declined offers to obtain the rights. It follows that pay TV operators cannot finalise their own program arrangements until the outcome of negotiations for free-to-air rights is known and the subsequent de-listing has been authorised. This can limit the ability of pay TV operators to schedule and promote forthcoming events.

Under the current anti-siphoning provisions, events are automatically de-listed one week after the event has been held. This ensures that pay TV operators may provide secondary coverage of listed events without restriction.

The Government's public policy objective of making available certain major sporting events free to the general public would not be served by removal of the anti-siphoning provisions of the Act at this time. Currently, there are a total of 1.2 million subscribers to Australia's major pay TV services. This compares with 6 million homes that are reached by free-to-air television.

However, there is scope for amendment to the existing anti-siphoning regime to assist pay TV operators to gain prompt access to broadcasting rights, where free-to-air broadcasters have had a reasonable opportunity to acquire rights. This is not intended to affect the availability of major sporting events to the general public.

The bill, therefore, provides for listed events to be automatically de-listed 6 weeks before commencement. Automatic de-listing 6 weeks before the event will maximise the time free-to-air broadcasters have to negotiate rights, while providing an adequate time prior to the event for subscription services to acquire and promote the event.

If free-to-air broadcasters oppose the de-listing of an event, and can successfully demonstrate to the Minister that they have not had a reasonable opportunity to acquire the free-to-air broadcasting rights before that date, the Minister may override the automatic de-listing by publishing a declaration that the event continues to be listed.

This bill provides for enhancements to the simulcast regime for HDTV in Australia in the light of experience, for improvements to the arrangements for the provision of a third commercial television service in currently underserved regional and remote areas, and for the introduction of more streamlined de-listing procedures under the anti-siphoning regime.

The Government remains committed to ensuring the transition from analog to digital broadcasting is as smooth as possible for viewers. This bill allows broadcasters sufficient scope to demonstrate the appeal of HDTV, and allows viewers to make informed choices about digital television products during the simulcast period.

The implementation of automatic de-listing of events 6 weeks before they are to occur will streamline the administration of the anti-siphoning regime. It directly addresses the problems identified by pay TV operators with the current de-listing scheme, while protecting access by free-to-air broadcasters to broadcasting rights for listed events and, thus, does not diminish opportunities for the public to enjoy free-to-air coverage of listed events.

Debate (on motion by Senator Ludwig) adjourned.

Motion (by Senator Ian Campbell) proposed:

That the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.