The Government Green Paper aims to modernise TV regulation but ignores accessibility

The Government Green Paper aims to modernise TV regulation but ignores accessibility

The Australian Government’s Media Reform Green Paper, which was released in November 2020, proposes changes which would address issues raised by the decline in viewers of traditional free-to-air television.

As viewers increasingly switch to video on demand (VOD) services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ for program content, advertising revenue for the free-to-air networks is falling. One area this affects is the ability for the free-to-air networks to provide news content, especially regional news.

The major proposal in the green paper is a change to the way free-to-air programs are broadcast. Technical advances mean networks can broadcast their current content using less of the radiofrequency spectrum. Under the proposal, broadcasters will be able to opt for a new kind of broadcasting license, under which they will use less of the spectrum, and the tax they currently pay for use of the spectrum would be abolished. The government could then sell the spare spectrum to telecommunications providers, and use some of the funds to support regional news services and Australian content (drama, documentary and children’s programming).

Another proposal involves requiring VOD services to invest a percentage of their Australian revenue in the creation of Australian content. Disability advocates, however, have noted there is no requirement for the VOD services to provide captioning or audio description for these programs, making them accessible for all Australians.

Currently in Australia, the only legislation which makes accessibility services compulsory are the captioning provisions in the Broadcasting Services Act, which includes captioning targets for free-to-air and subscription TV services. There is no legislation covering online services. This contrasts with the situation in the United States, where any program which has been broadcast on television must also be captioned when distributed over the internet.

The Government is seeking submissions in response to the Green Paper. The deadline for submissions is 23 May.