Government ponders digital media regulation

Two reports examine the options for regulation of content and of competition

Broadcasting minister Trevor Mallard and communications minister David Cunliffe jointly issued a research report this morning on the regulation of digital broadcasting.

The report concentrates on options for regulating and encouraging competition in digital channels. A separate paper, under Mallard’s imprint alone, discusses content regulation.

The potential regulatory schemes seek to cover an increasingly converged range of digital media, where a clear line can no longer be drawn between audiovisual internet content and broadcast television programmes.

New patterns of consumer behaviour are made possible by digital recording devices that give consumers more control of “when and how they access, watch, manipulate and create digital content,” says a Cabinet paper accompanying the reports.

Cunliffe says the research report he signed off examines “market trends in broadcasting, the international regulatory responses to those developments, and the threats and opportunities resulting from the growing convergence between traditional broadcasting and telecommunications sectors.

“It is important that we address our future options now. Digital broadcasting is a pervasive and highly influential medium — not just for our national identity but also for New Zealand's economic transformation to a high-wage, export-led innovative country,” he says.

The report presents four scenarios, depending on how control of the medium ranges between consumer and content provider and the amount of choice and diversity that is available to customers both urban and rural.

Not surprisingly, it favours the consumer-control and wide range scenario, labelling the other options, “concentration”, “stagnation” and “fragmentation”.

The New Zealand’s market’s tendency to monopolies and duopolies still poses a risk of concentration of control in too few hands, the Cabinet paper says, while potential fragmentation of audiences across multiple channels and international content via the internet poses dangers for local content and public service broadcasting.

Public comment is invited on both reports, with a deadline of April 4.

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