Australia

Communications watchdog urges broadcasters to expand codes to cover online services

Australia’s media regulator is urging broadcasters to update their codes of practice and develop new rules to cover online services such as live-streaming and catch-up TV, as data shows more Australians are watching on-demand content than ever before.

In a position paper released on Wednesday, the Australian Communications and Media Authority concluded the nine broadcasting industry codes covering free-to-air and commercial TV and radio were out of date, calling for them to be expanded to cover online platforms.

Nerida O’Loughlin, chair of the Australian Communications and Media Authority.Credit:Rhett Wyman

Many of the industry codes had not been updated for years, ACMA found, and “most current codes of practice do not apply to online content, even when that content appears on a broadcaster’s live-streamed, catch-up or on-demand platform”.

But the authority stopped short of recommending explicit changes to the codes. It instead identified a range of “core audience expectations” in areas such as accuracy and impartiality, stating that “providers should prevent the amplification or spread of misinformation and disinformation”.

The absence of misinformation provisions in the industry codes came to the fore last year, amid a furore over YouTube’s decision to suspend Sky News from using its platform for breaching its COVID-19 misinformation policies. This prompted a debate about whether the tech giant was better equipped than ACMA in addressing misinformation spread through traditional broadcast mediums.

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In the paper, ACMA also identified “an increased level of public concern about the welfare and wellbeing of people” who participated in shows such as reality TV programs.

It suggested a “best-practice” approach would “ensure that ordinary individuals who participate in content are fully informed about the implications of their involvement before they agree to participate”.

The paper also noted that while all the industry codes prohibited content that was discriminatory or incited hatred, to be considered in breach it often had to pass a threshold of “intense dislike, serious contempt or severe ridicule”. ACMA said complaints it had received under these provisions suggested this was out of sync with community expectations.

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