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AUSTRALIAN Content regulation

COMMERCIAL FREE-TO-AIR TELEVISION BROADCASTERS

Television broadcasters have the primary responsibility to ensure that the material they broadcast reflects community standards. Most program requirements are governed by a code of practice, determined through industry and community consultation, which for commercial free-to-air television broadcasters is the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice published on the FreeTV website.

However, some aspects of programming on free-to-air and subscription television are regulated by the Australian Government and Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The ACMA is a federal government statutory authority, which was established on 1 July 2005 when the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Australian Communications Authority merged.

The areas covered by ACMA’s free-to-air television regulation address minimum levels of Australian content, local content, Australian content in advertising and the anti-siphoning of sport, which are summarised below, as well as additional schemes covering sponsorship of community television, political material and anti-terrorism. For more information, see the ACMA website.

Australian content requirements date back to 1961. This webpage provides an overview of the:

  • current content requirements in effect from 1 January 2021, and
  • previous content requirements directly in effect before the current requirements.

OVERALL TRANSMISSION QUOTA

The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 requires all commercial free-to-air television licensees (commercial broadcasters) to annually broadcast the following amount of Australian programming between 6am and midnight:

  • Primary channels: minimum of 55 per cent, and
  • non-primary channels: minimum of 1,460 hours.

CURRENT CONTENT STANDARDS

On 1 January 2021, the Broadcasting Services (Australian Content and Children’s Television) Standards 2020 (the Standards) commenced.

The object of the Standards is to promote the role of commercial television services in developing and reflecting a sense of Australian identity, character and cultural diversity by supporting the community’s continued access to television programs produced under Australian creative control.

Commercial broadcasters must annually broadcast on primary and/or non-primary channels a minimum of 250 points of Australian content between 6am and midnight. The programs can comprise any combination of the following, provided the programs are also both ‘Australian’ and ‘first release’:

  • commissioned drama programs (including children’s drama programs)
  • commissioned children’s non-drama programs
  • commissioned documentary programs (capped at 50 points)
  • acquired films.

The genre point allocations for the annual quota are outlined in Schedule 1 of the Standards (copied below), with higher points allocated for more expensive content.

Commercial broadcasters may carry over up to 50 extra points broadcast in excess of the quota in one calendar year to the following year.

Commercial broadcasters must report to the ACMA each year. The ACMA publishes aggregated compliance data on its website.

PREVIOUS CONTENT STANDARDS

Content requirements in place directly prior to 2021 were outlined in the following legislative instruments (no longer in force):

The previous Content Standard set minimum annual sub-quotas for ‘first release’ ‘Australian’ general drama and documentary programs to be broadcast between 6am and midnight:

  • General drama: minimum of 250 points per year and a three-year score of 860 points, and
  • Documentary: minimum of 20 hours per year, each program of at least 30 minutes’ duration.

The previous Children’s Standard classified children’s programs as either C programs (for children other than preschoolers) or P programs (for preschool children). The definition of ‘children’ included people younger than 14 years old.

C and P programs had to be made specifically for children, be entertaining and well produced with high production standards, enhance a child’s understanding and experience, and be appropriate.

A commercial broadcaster was required to broadcast a combined total of 390 hours of Australian C and P programs per year during specified hours and, while adhering to specified advertising requirements, broadcast the following sub-quotas:

  • C programs: minimum combined total of 260 hours per year, including:
  • First release C programs: minimum of 130 hours per year
  • First release C drama programs: minimum of 25 hours per year and 96 hours over a three-year period, and
  • Repeat C drama programs: eight hours per year.
  • P programs: minimum total of 130 hours of P programs (for preschool children) per year from any source.

Note that the points system and allocations are different to the current Standards.

The sub-quota score was calculated by multiplying a ‘format factor’ by the duration of the program. The format factor was a scale based on a combination of program type (serial or series, feature film, telemovie, mini-series or stand-alone drama of less than 90 minutes) and/or the level of licence fee paid.

LOCAL CONTENT

From 1 January 2008, as part of the changes introduced by the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Act 2006, ACMA has been required to ensure that specified regional commercial television broadcasting licensees in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania broadcast minimum amounts of material of local significance pursuant to the Broadcasting Services Local Programming Determination 2018.

Content that may be considered of local significance may range from material that deals with people, organisations, events or issues of a particular area to a sporting event that involves a team from the area or a team whose principal support base includes that area.

CAPTIONING

Commercial broadcasters must show captions on all programs broadcast between 6am to midnight. News and current affairs programs must have captions at all times. Some exceptions apply, such as programs that are not in English.

AUSTRALIAN CONTENT IN ADVERTISING

The Broadcasting Services (Australian Content in Advertising) Standard 2018 requires a commercial broadcaster to ensure that Australian produced advertisements occupy at least 80 per cent of the total advertising time broadcast per year between 6am and midnight. The total advertising time excludes the duration of exempt advertisements, which are defined to include advertisements for imported cinema films, videos and recordings.

ANTI-SIPHONING SCHEME

The anti-siphoning scheme aims to give free-to-air television broadcasters a chance to show major events included on the anti-siphoning list.

Subscription television broadcasters can acquire the rights to broadcast events on the anti-siphoning list in certain circumstances, including if:

  • an event is removed from the anti-siphoning list (e.g. events are automatically removed from the list if no one has bought the rights 26 weeks before the event is scheduled to start)
  • a national broadcaster or commercial broadcaster with a combined audience of more than half of the Australian population has purchased the rights, or
  • seven days have passed since the end of the event.

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