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Labor Senators report on Government's digital television and datacasting legislation.

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Labor Senators Report On Government's Digital Television And Datacasting Legislation Stephen Smith - Shadow Minister for Communications

Media Statement - 8 June 2000

Shadow Minister for Communications, Stephen Smith, today welcomed the tabling of Labor Senators' Environment, Recreation, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Committee report into the Government's proposed digital television and datacasting legislation.

"The Labor Senators' report tabled today reinforces Labor's concerns with critical aspects of the Bill, which now warrant further attention in the lead up to Senate debate on the legislation," Mr Smith said.

"In the report, Labor Senators highlight concerns that the narrow approach taken to the definition of datacasting by the Government is much too restrictive and risks stifling a new industry before it emerges. Such an approach fails to enhance or maximise the future potential of this industry.

"As well, Labor Senators indicate in the report that the restrictions on datacasting together with the prohibition on the ABC and SBS from multichannelling will have particularly adverse consequences for rural and regional Australia.

"Other issues explored in the report include concerns that the enhanced services provisions for free-to-air broadcasters appear to go further than previously anticipated, and the need for careful, appropriately timed scrutiny of the operation of the legislation through review provisions contained in the legislation".

Mr Smith said that Labor would now consider all aspects of the Senate Committee's report, together with a range of industry submissions and evidence presented to the Committee to formulate its detailed legislative position in advance of Senate debate on the Bill.

Executive Summary


The definition of datacasting, as it stands, is overly restrictive, complicated and goes beyond restricting datacasting to services that do not constitute broadcasting. Labor Senators believe that while datacasting cannot be de facto broadcasting, the definition should be amended to remove the artificial and unnecessary limitations on datacasting.

Labor Senators believe it is crucial that this emergent industry is not stifled in its development and innovative capacity by overly restrictive regulation and that the benefits for Australia's technological advancement, improved consumer services and employment and economic opportunities should not be constrained.

Labor Senators oppose the genre-based content definition of datacasting and call upon the Government to withdraw from that approach.

Labor Senators support an approach that favours flexibility, minimises barriers to entry, and allows new services to develop over time.

ABA regulatory power

Labor Senators note the ABA's regulatory role in the area of determining datacasting content. Labor Senators note the Bill denies interested parties the ability to access stay powers or seek injunctive relief in relation to decisions of the ABA. Labor Senators urge deletion of relevant exclusions in the Bill.

Labor Senators acknowledge the legitimate concerns of the national broadcasters that the genre-based content definition of datacasting might impinge on programming decisions properly the province of their Boards. The definition of datacasting in the Bill gives occasion to this concern. Specific provisions that might apply to datacasting by the ABC and SBS might more appropriately be contained within the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 and the Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991.

National broadcasters and datacasting

The nonsensical decision to impose datacasting fees on the national broadcasters should be reversed, and they should be exempted from payment of the fees.

National broadcasters should be allowed to broadcast radio programs for datacasting purposes.

Datacasting transmission licences after the broadcasting moratorium

Labor Senators believe it is important that the post-moratorium arrangements for datacasting licences, which have a term of 10 years with a 5-year option, be considered by early review.

Multi-channelling by the national broadcasters

There is broad support for allowing the national broadcasters the ability to multi-channel. Labor Senators see no valid justification for denying the national broadcasters the ability to multi-channel, particularly when those arguments are balanced against the resultant benefits.

Spectrum loan to commercial television stations and HDTV

There is some industry criticism of the Government's policy decision to loan spectrum to the commercial free-to-air television broadcasters for the purpose of conversion to digital and HDTV.

Labor Senators believe that the arrangements mandating HDTV require early review to assess the continued mandating of HDTV broadcasting.

Enhanced programming

On the evidence, it is not an unreasonable conclusion that the provisions of the Bill allow simultaneous, multiple broadcasts of distinct substance which could constitute de facto multi-channelling. This allows the free-to-air broadcasters to compete with the multi-channelling services offered by the pay TV sector.

It is clear to Labor Senators that these proposed provisions may cross the boundary between what was conceived to comprise 'enhancements' pursuant to the Act and the Minister's media release of 21st December 1999, into the domain of de facto multi-channelling. The provisions are substantively different from those previously proposed.

Labor Senators believe that the Bill should be consistent with the Minister's previous policy indications of what would comprise enhanced programming and the circumstances in which multi-channelling in the case of an 'overlap' would be permitted, so that commercial free-to-air stations do not engage in de facto multi-channelling.


In recognition of the transitional nature of the legislation, it is highly desirable that its consequences and efficacy are measured over the coming years to ensure that Parliament's policy objectives are being properly and effectively implemented.

Labor Senators believe that it is critical for the proposed reviews to be instigated, completed and their findings considered in a timely manner consistent with the industry's requirement for certainty.

Labor Senators believe it is pertinent for the reviews to be transparent and accountable to Parliament. As such they should be statutory and required by this legislation.

Community broadcasting

Labor Senators consider some degree of legislative certainty consistent with the Minister's undertakings for community broadcasters to be warranted and appropriate.

Captioning arrangements

Labor Senators welcome the captioning requirements, which have considerable benefit for a significant sector of the community.

Whilst it is acknowledged that regional television broadcasters will inevitably bear a disproportionate burden of costs of the captioning requirements relative to metropolitan stations, the importance of captioning to those with hearing impairments or deafness should not be under-estimated.

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