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Monday, 28 June 1999
Page: 7614


Mr McGAURAN (Arts and the Centenary of Federation) (5:47 PM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

The Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill (No. 1) 1999 proposes amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to:

. improve opportunities for the live television coverage of designated events and series by introducing an `anti-hoarding' regime for free-to-air broadcasters;

. protect regional broadcasters from `look alike' metropolitan free-to-air programming on regional pay TV services;

. introduce a new retransmission regime, which will require pay TV operators wishing to retransmit free-to-air radio or television broadcasting services to seek the consent of the originating broadcaster; and

. provide for an increase in the time allowed for sponsorship announcements on community broadcasting services from four minutes to five minutes per hour.

The anti-hoarding, retransmission and regional protection provisions were originally introduced in the Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill 1998 last year, before lapsing with the calling of the last federal election.

This bill reintroduces these provisions, with changes to the regional protection and retransmission provisions reflecting the Senate legislation committee process, and further consultations with the industry and the Australian Broadcasting Authority, ABA.

The new retransmission regime will fulfil a previous coalition election promise to give broadcasters control over their own signal, consistent with the general approach adopted by the Copyright Convergence Group, CCG, in its 1994 report Highways to Change: Copyright in the New Communications Environment. It will overcome an anomaly in the current retransmission rules which allows pay TV operators to retransmit free-to-air broadcasting services without consent or compensation.

The new regime will require the prior agreement of the originating broadcaster to any retransmission of the free-to-air broadcasting service, except in limited circumstances such as in remote areas or for self-help purposes where exemption from this general rule is considered desirable in the public interest.

The bill provides for early enforcement of the broadcaster right in the event of any delay to the passage of proposed associated amendments to the Copyright Act 1968. These amendments will provide for a new broadly based technology-neutral right of communication to the public, and will require pay TV operators to compensate owners of underlying copyright material in broadcasts for the retransmission of those broadcasts.

The government has consulted widely with all relevant interest groups on the proposed retransmission arrangements, and on associated provisions to protect regional broadcasters from the rebroadcast of programs on regional pay TV services, which are substantially similar to prime time metropolitan television programming.

Free-to-air broadcasters and pay TV operators should have a clear mutual interest in agreeing to reasonable terms for future retransmissions, which will also benefit many viewers who receive improved reception of free-to-air services through such retransmission arrangements. The bill provides for a review of the operation of the new retransmission arrangements within two years to ensure that the public interest is met.

The bill also introduces an `anti-hoarding rule'. The proposed scheme consists of a `must offer' obligation to be imposed on free-to-air broadcasters and their regular program suppliers who have live broadcast rights to designated events or series but who do not intend to facilitate live television coverage of these events. Free-to-air commercial broadcasters in this situation will have to offer the unused rights to the ABC and SBS for a nominal charge. The ABC and SBS will have to offer such rights to each other in similar circumstances.

Under the current provisions of the Broadcasting Services Act, free-to-air broadcasters are given priority access to the purchase of broadcasting rights to a wide range of major sporting events set out in the anti-siphoning list. However, there is nothing in the legislation to actively encourage free-to-air broadcasters to exercise the rights they have acquired. Broadcasters may delay coverage, or televise only a small proportion of an event.

The current provision for the minister to remove events from the anti-siphoning list is unlikely to be effective in situations where a broadcaster decides, at short notice, not to fully televise an event. Such a situation occurred in 1997 when the Nine Network decided not to show the first session of play in the test matches of the Ashes cricket series in England, to the grave disappointment of many cricket supporters and sporting lovers. Who will ever forget the outcry at the time!

The operation of the proposed anti-hoarding amendments will be confined to events and series designated by the minister. It is envisaged that the ministerial designation power will be used only in limited circumstances—for example, where there is a wide public expectation, based on past practice, of the full live televising of an event—such as, I would imagine, the Ashes cricket series.

Finally, the bill gives effect to the government's election commitment to increase the community broadcasting sponsorship limit from four to five minutes per hour. This will assist the viability of individual stations and quite rightly bring the community sector into line with similar limits imposed on the SBS. The amendments in this bill are expected to have no significant impact on Commonwealth expenditure or revenue. I table an explanatory memorandum and commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Stephen Smith) adjourned.