Measuring influence in a disrupted media sector

Panellists: Richard Bean (ACMA), Tom Burton (The Mandarin), Bridget Fair (Seven West Media), Peter Leonard (Gilbert + Tobin Lawyers), David Levy (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism), Ishtar Vij (Google Australia and  New Zealand).

‘Influence’ may be described as the power to shape public opinion and cultural identity. For many years ‘influence’ has been a pivotal concept in the regulatory approach taken to broadcast and other media in Australia. The regulatory policy that underpins Australia’s Broadcasting Services Act 1992 is set out in section 1:

The Parliament intends that different levels of regulatory control be applied across the range of broadcasting services, datacasting services and internet services according to the degree of influence that different types of broadcasting services, datacasting services and internet services are able to exert in shaping community views in Australia (emphasis added).

Reflecting this policy, the current media diversity and control rules apply to media types traditionally regarded as influential:  commercial television, commercial radio and ‘associated’ newspapers. Online publications, streaming services and subscription television simply do not figure.

Similarly, commercial broadcasters have obligations to broadcast minimum amounts of local content placed on them.  Commercial television broadcasters must meet Australian content quotas and commercial radio broadcasters must broadcast minimum amounts of Australian music.  Subscription television (drama) broadcasters must spend a minimum amount on new Australian drama productions.  Again, online content services have no equivalent quota or expenditure obligations.

However, the ‘influence’ construct on which such regulatory rules are based is being tested by a changing news cycle, new content providers and new delivery platforms. Technology now allows individuals to create, share and curate content.  These developments challenge long held views about the ‘influence’ of traditional service providers.

This session will explore the contemporary relevance of ‘influence’ as a regulatory foundation.  How should influence be considered and measured in a digitally disrupted media sector?

Key difficulties in regulating by reference to media influence include:

  • Determining the level of scale (audience size) at which prospective exercise of influence should become a concern;
  • Determining the content types which may be a concern;
  • Determining how influence may be objectively measured;
  • Demonstrating how or when influence is exercised or manifest;
  • Taking account of the influence that citizens now have on media (creation and curation) as well as the influence that media has on citizens;
  • Anticipating the dynamics of the market such that any regulation does not:

– address concerns of limited relevance in dynamic and disrupted markets; or
– distort efficient development of those markets by disadvantaging some platforms.

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