Country and Regional Information - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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Broadcasting and online content

The Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts has the responsibility for providing policy advice to the Australian Government and contributing to the development of legislation that governs television and radio broadcasting and online (Internet) content.

The Department is also responsible for providing policy advice on radiocommunications and satellite (spectrum management) issues.

Online content

Concern expressed by the Australian community about illegal and offensive material on the Internet and in emails has led to the development of a scheme for the shared regulation of online content.

The scheme relies on codes of practice developed by the Internet Industry Association in consultation with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and relevant industry bodies and community groups. Any Australian resident, or any representative of a business operating in Australia, may complain to ACMA about online material that could fall within a prohibited or potentially prohibited category.

While the regulatory scheme mainly focuses on responding to complaints, ACMA also has the power to initiate investigations. The scheme does not impose a requirement on Internet service providers to monitor content or to engage in universal blocking of content. It provides for community education by both ACMA and the independent Internet safety advisory body, NetAlert, in safe Internet use.

The Australian Government’s Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA) establishes a legislative framework that responds to community concerns about the availability and accessibility of interactive gambling in Australia. It aims to ensure that new interactive gambling services do not worsen the level of problem gambling in Australia.

Under the provisions of the IGA, Australian residents (or companies that trade in Australia) are able to complain to ACMA if they believe that Australians can access prohibited Internet gambling content.

Commercial television broadcasting

There are 54 licensed commercial television services in Australia. The Seven, Nine and Ten networks broadcast mainly in the major capital cities while others-such as Prime (including the Golden West Network), WIN and Southern Cross Broadcasting-focus on regional areas. Each regional network is affiliated with a metropolitan network.

The only commercial television broadcaster owned by Aboriginal interests, Imparja Television, broadcasts from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to remote parts of central and eastern Australia.

Free-to-air digital broadcasting began in Australia in January 2001 (see further details below).

Free TV Australia is the peak industry association for free-to-air commercial television services in Australia and is the public voice of the commercial television industry on many issues.

As part of its role in the shared regulation of broadcast content, Free TV Australia has developed the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, which is registered and administered by ACMA.

Free TV Australia also participates, along with media and advertising industry groups, in developing other regulatory codes and it monitors member compliance with them.

Commercial radio broadcasting

As at August 2005, there were 274 commercial radio licences issued in Australia, with 272 of these in operation.

Commercial Radio Australia is the peak industry association for the commercial radio sector. It is responsible for formulating, administering and reviewing the Commercial Radio Code of Practice.

Open narrowcasting services

Open narrowcasting radio services are those that limit reception in some way, perhaps by targeting a special interest group (e.g. religious programming or ethnic language services), or by operating within a specified location (e.g. shopping centres or hospitals), or by transmitting for a limited time period (e.g. a community event or festival).

Narrowcasting services are important for providing diversity in broadcasting. They require relatively low start-up and operating costs and so allow a wide range of organisations and individuals to provide services.

As at August 2005, there were 245 licences issued for high-powered narrowcasting formats and around 1800 licences issued for low-powered narrowcasting formats.

National broadcasting

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) are independent statutory corporations established under their own legislation. The Australian Government determines the level of funding from the federal budget for each, but does not have editorial control or programming responsibility.

A board of directors, appointed by Australia’s Governor-General, governs each corporation and appoints their Managing Directors. The boards are independent of the Government in determining the operational policies of their organisations.


The ABC's Charter, as set out in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983, includes the requirement to broadcast programs that inform, educate, entertain and reflect the cultural diversity of Australia.


The SBS Charter is set out in the Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991. It identifies the principal function of the SBS as providing multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia's multicultural society.

Community broadcasting

Australia's community broadcasters are licensed by ACMA to provide non-profit services that emphasise community participation, access to minority and special interest groups and promote Australian music. There are approximately 250 licensed community radio services operating throughout Australia.

A trial of community television services is being run in most state capital cities and one regional area. ACMA is formalising the arrangements for community television licences in the Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth markets.

The Australian Government provides funding to community broadcasters through the Community Broadcasting Foundation Ltd , an industry-based company established to allocate the funds. The sector is represented by various associations, including the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia .

Digital broadcasting

Broadcasters commenced digital services in January 2001 in mainland state capital cities and have also now commenced in all regional television licence areas. Broadcasters are required to provide a standard definition (SD) digital TV broadcast of their existing analog service at all times.

An estimated 84 per cent of the Australian population now has access to digital services from all their local free-to-air broadcasters and around 96 per cent of the population has access to at least one digital service.

Broadcasters are required to continue their existing analogue broadcasts for at least eight years from the start-up date for digital services in their area. In addition, within two years of the commencement of digital broadcasting in each area broadcasters must commence high definition (HD) services. Each broadcaster must provide at least 1040 hours per annum of HDTV programming. The HD service must offer the same programming as the SD service.

The ABC and SBS are allowed to provide additional digital services (multichannelling) that may include educational programs, regional news and current affairs, science and arts programs, children's programs and occasional dramas. The ABC and SBS will also be able to transmit their radio services through their digital television channels, extending their reach.

While the commercial broadcasters are not permitted to multichannel, they are allowed to provide a limited range of digital enhancements to their main simulcast programs, provided they are directly linked to, and transmitted simultaneously with the main program.

The Digital Radio Study Group, formed in 2003, recently reported to the Australian Government on the status of the different digital radio technologies currently available internationally and potential approaches for the implementation of digital radio services.

In October 2005 the Government announced a framework for the introduction of digital radio broadcasting in Australia.


The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 provides for the licensing of datacasting services in the broadcasting services band. There are restrictions on the services that can be offered under a datacasting licence, so that datacasting cannot be used to circumvent the ban on new commercial television licences.

Broadcasters are permitted to provide datacasting services on their allocated digital channels. ACMA is responsible for the allocation of these licences and a number of broadcasters have been allocated datacasting licences since commencing digital broadcasts.

Pay TV

Australia has three major pay television networks, delivered via cable or satellite, which are either in the process of converting to digital mode or have recently announced plans to do so. Several smaller players also provide pay television services.

Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association

The Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA) was formed in September 1997 to represent the interests of satellite and narrowcast radio services, narrowcast television services, program channel providers, subscription TV operators and other associated communications companies. ASTRA, in consultation with ACMA, has developed codes of practice that apply to the broadcasting operations of the subscription TV and narrowcast radio industries.

For further information

Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts

Australian Communications and Media Authority

Internet Industry Association


Seven Network

Nine Network

Network Ten

Prime Television

Golden West Network

WIN Television

Southern Cross Broadcasting

Imparja Television

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Special Broadcasting Service

Commercial Radio Australia

Community Broadcasting Foundation Ltd

Community Broadcasting Association of Australia

Digital Broadcasting Australia

Free TV Australia



Optus TV

Australia Subscription Television and Radio Association