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Parliament House, Canberra, 20 June 2000: transcript of doorstop interview: Digital television.



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Doorstop Interview

Stephen Smith - Shadow Minister for Communications

Subject: Digital Television

Transcript - Parliament House, Canberra - 20 June 2000

E & OE - Proof Only

JOURNALIST: Digital television, what's Labor doing on that today?

SMITH: This morning I'm releasing Labor's detailed amendments for the Government's digital television and datacasting legislation. The amendments will form the basis of our position in the debate on the legislation in the Senate, which starts tomorrow.

The amendments were approved by the Shadow Ministry and the Caucus yesterday and they cover the key areas of concern which we have been flagging since the Government announced the detail of its policy position in December last year.

They go to a general definition of datacasting. Our aspirations for a knowledge nation have us believe that the more general the definition of datacasting is, the more chance there is that Australians who live everywhere, particularly Australians who live in rural and regional Australia, will have the opportunity of new information services.

So, we're proposing a general definition of datacasting which is not content based or program based as is the Government's framework.

The second thrust of our amendments is to enable the national public broadcasters, the ABC and the SBS, to multi-channel. We believe that the national public broadcasters provide an essential service to all Australians and it's in the public interest to enable, consistently with their Charters, the two national broadcasters to multi-channel.

The third thrust of our amendments is to bring forward the Government's series of reviews. We believe that we're going through a transitional period, and early and orderly review by the Parliament will be necessary to gauge the experience of the take-up of digital television and the experience of datacasting.

They are presented this morning in some detail and I now propose to have discussions with industry, with the Democrats and the Government, if the Government is amenable, to gauge support for the amendments and to seek to secure an orderly passage, or an orderly consideration of the amendments and the legislation in the course of the Senate this week and next.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any indication for definition on datacasting…provide a back door for new television licences?

SMITH: Well, our framework is predicated on the basis of the 1998 framework legislation,

which is, datacasters can't be de facto or back door broadcasters. And our regime, while it sees a general definition of datacasting, looks to and would require the Australian Broadcasting Authority to look at the attributes of datacasting and the attributes of broadcasting and make judgements or determinations where there was a dispute. But the framework is predicated on the basis that datacasting cannot be de facto, or backdoor broadcasting.

The Government has sought to effect that by, in our view, a potentially unworkable content based distinction. We believe that a framework of distinguishing the attributes of datacasting and broadcasting would provide the Australian Broadcasting Authority, and prospective datacasters, with sufficient guidelines to enable the industry to get off the ground and not to be engaging in backdoor or de facto broadcasting.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any indication from the Democrats whether they will support you?

SMITH: No. I've been proceeding on the basis of ensuring that our position was arrived at in an orderly fashion. I had preliminary discussions with the Democrats when the Senate Committee report came down, which were along the lines of, once we had determined our position formally as a Party and we had determined our amendments, then I'm happy to have conversations and discussions. So, I'm sure those conversations will occur naturally in the course of the next few days and week, just as they will with the relevant industry representatives and, at some stage, I'm sure they will with the Government as well.

JOURNALIST: If it's not content based boundary for datacasting, how do you draw up those amendments? I'm just trying to work out…how do you define...

SMITH: When you look at the detail of the amendments that we are publishing today, you'll see that we are distinguishing between the attributes of datacasting and the attributes of broadcasting.

JOURNALIST: How?

SMITH: Television as we know it today is essentially point to multi-point, it's passive, it's contemporaneous, everyone sees essentially the same content at the same time. Datacasting is based on interactivity, it's based on menu choice, or user choice, or selection, it's not passive, it's interactive. And not everyone sees the same thing at the same time. And so, there are a range of distinguishable characteristics which we believe would provide more than enough guidance for datacasters, more than enough guidance for broadcasters and more than enough guidance for the ABA if there was a dispute. It's a much easier system to determine than the arcane distinction between what might be news or current affairs, or what might be informative, educative but not allowed to be lightly entertaining, which is the Government's content or program based distinction.

Ends

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.