Regulation with a nudge: ACMA learns its pressure points


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The broadcast media watchdog is evolving as the industry it regulates convulses and converges into a mash-up of old and new media. In the meantime, it’s finding new ways to keep things civil on the airwaves.

The hallmark of a good regulatory framework is predictability, according to Australian Communications and Media Authority chief Chris Chapman, and that comes from a consistent approach to interpreting the regulations.

For ACMA, which administers nine different broadcast industry codes, deep thought has gone into what words like “fairness” and “impartiality” really mean in the course of investigating code breaches over the years. As part of a drive to become a more effective, lighter-touch regulator, the media watchdog has produced a series of papers explaining how it has interpreted these concepts in actual cases over the years.

The first paper covered fairness, impartiality and what constitutes a distinct viewpoint in the context of balanced reporting; the second focused on accuracy. The third and final paper will explore ACMA’s understanding of “generally accepted standards of decency”, which a certain Kyle Sandilands demonstrated is not shared by everyone in the media.

The regulator decided to produce the papers off its own bat to help broadcasters get on the same page. The chairman says nobody has “taken issue” with anything they’ve written so far. “There was nothing else in the market that has this depth of analysis or this thematic cut of what we do, so I think it’s been very well received,” Chapman told The Mandarin.

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