Communications Minister Paul Fletcher presented the second reading of the Regional Commercial Radio and Other Measures Bill to Parliament this week.
The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to relax some elements of the local content obligations.
The Bill has been introduced at a moment of significant crisis in Australian media, particularly for media businesses operating in regional areas. It includes a commitment to reform media regulation towards a platform-neutral regulatory framework, and to relax content obligations on free-to-air television broadcasters.
It willl enable regional commercial radio broadcasting licensees to split exemption periods from local news and information content obligations into two periods, together totalling no more than five weeks and to amend the minimum service standard obligations which apply after a trigger event occurs. A number of changes for television are also contained in the Bill.
In the second reading debate, Paul Fletcher told Parliament:
The measures that the bill proposes will provide licensees with greater flexibility and certainty in delivering broadcasting services in regional areas to provide greater sustainability of regional voices, preserving greater choice for regional audiences.
The Broadcasting Services Act places a range of local content obligations on regional commercial radio licensees, in order to support the ongoing availability of local content in regional Australia. This includes the general obligation to provide a minimum amount of material of local significance per business day.
The regional commercial radio industry has informed the government that it considers a number of the requirements associated with the local content and minimum services standards obligations to be inflexible, impractical or overly burdensome.
The measures contained in schedule 1 of the bill will provide industry with more flexibility in acquitting its local content and minimum service standards obligations.
The bill makes amendments to the exemption period provisions for both the local content and minimum services standards obligations so that they are more flexible. These provisions currently provide default five-week exemption periods for both obligations, over the Christmas and New Year holiday period. However, these are not the only times of the year licensees may face similar staffing and resource pressures.
The bill also removes the requirement for trigger event licensees to develop a local content plan, and replaces this with a requirement to prepare and publish a local content statement.