The recently completed Convergence Review, chaired by Glen Boreham, makes part of a nation-building process of reform, transforming media and communications in Australia, according to the Director of UTS's Communications Law Centre Professor Michael Fraser.
Chairing a major public speech by Mr Boreham last week as part of the UTS Spotlight series, Professor Fraser said that the world-leading review comprised part of a three-part process of transforming Australia into an information society:
1. the construction of a high-speed optical network to replace the copper wire network;
2. the structural separation of Telstra from the National Broadband Network (NBN); and
3. the Convergence Review with its focus on content and consumer demand for content, rather than media providers.
"The digitisation of information and the connection of things to the internet have brought us an information revolution whose effects will be as big as the industrial revolutions of 1820 and 1920," Professor Fraser said. "We are only at the beginning of this great structural shift in our society."
"I do not believe it is possible for the government to pass regulation that can keep pace with accelerating changes in new technology, new services and new demand in the fields of communication, media, classification, copyright and cyber security.
"Flexible and adaptable principles-based regulation that supports a competitive market is the only way to protect and maintain the public interest in such a dynamic environment."
According to Professor Fraser, if we get these issues right, we will have the infrastructure for building a sustainable knowledge economy.
In presenting the core details of the Convergence Review, Mr Boreham detailed how three enduring priorities remained during the process of conducting public forums, meetings with business leaders and analysing over 340 detailed submissions and 28,000 comments.
First, it was recognised that a diversity of media ownership is at the core of a healthy democracy, and therefore media ownership and control rules are vital to ensure that a diversity of news and commentary is maintained.
Secondly, Australians desired minimum content standards across all platforms which should reflect community standards and expectations on issues such as what is appropriate for children to see, hear or read.
Thirdly, the social and cultural benefits of Australian-produced content that reflects our identity, character and diversity were seen as essential.
These three areas, according to Mr Boreham, were identified as needing continued government regulation.
The review recommended a change in regulation, proposing two bodies:
1. A statutory body to replace the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which should be at arm's length from the government. The government should set principles and guidelines, and the new statutory body would interpret and implement them.
2. An industry body to self-regulate and oversee journalistic standards for news and commentary across all platforms in the media and communications sector.
Crucially, the review recommends that only professional content services organisations, such as the news organisations, fall under this new regulatory regime. Should an internet company, such as Google, grow to the equivalent size of a company like Fairfax in terms of its content provision, then it would also fall under the regime.
Mr Boreham and the review team believes that even in a borderless, globalised operating environment, the review's recommendations are achievable, citing multinational organisations such as IBM or HSBC as examples.
In closing the event, Professor Fraser said that the Convergence Review is a "coherent strategic proposal", with high-level recommendations that may take ten years to fully implement.
"The Convergence Review saw that business and consumer demands are changing, and that supply needs to be regulated," Professor Fraser said.
He believes that the Convergence Review presents a unique opportunity for industry to develop appropriate codes of practice for a sector typified by frequent and fast technological change.
The review final report can be downloaded from the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy website.