ACMA shocked by abolition calls

ACMA chairman Chris Chapman has said that he was "gobsmacked" by the Convergence Review recommendation that ACMA be abolished, saying he sees a big future for the authority in a digital world.

The chairman of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Chris Chapman has admitted to being gobsmacked by a recommendation in the Convergence Review that the ACMA be abolished, saying that the group only examined 40 per cent of what the authority does.

As part of the recommendations to come out of the Convergence Review — which examined the regulatory environment for the media and the internet — one recommendation was that the ACMA be abolished, or folded into a new overarching regulator for content and communications.

Speaking at the Charles Todd Oration in Sydney, Chapman said that he was surprised by the recommendation.

"I'm still a little gobsmacked that the review can recommend the abolition of the ACMA. I think our internal reckoning suggested it touched on 40 per cent of the activities we undertake," he said.

While the government has still yet to say whether or not it will act on any of the recommendations of the review, Chapman said Australia needed to move beyond the conversation about the Convergence Review.

"I think we're getting bogged down by that," he said.

"Discussions around convergence are too narrow. Whether you use networked society or information society, I think there is a dialogue that has to be prosecuted, in all facets of government, business, consumers, citizens and regulators, that goes well beyond the current narrow thinking that has, up until now, been couched in convergence."

He said that, as the world entered a "hyper-digital" era, the regulator needed to be flexible to adapt to rapid changes to the industry.

"I think this evolution drives a need to empower the regulator to be flexible and rapidly adaptive to changing industry circumstances, which may involve more rapid 'fit for purpose' intervention and may equally, if not more so, involve regulatory discretion and the exercise forbearance, which empowerment will be a crucial part of the way forward," he said.

Chapman said that as networks evolve, regulating the communication on those networks will be even more complex.

"We need to acknowledge the inevitable movement towards an even more complex communications world, where network elements can and will be emulated in software — think 'virtualisation' — leading, in turn, to an ever more intricate and subtle interconnection between networks, devices, services and content," he said.

He said that, as a starting point, the government should aim to bring the current legislation "up to date" with the digital world.

"However, things have changed quite radically over the last six or so years. And I suggest we all must plan for further radical change over an indicative lifespan of any proposed regulatory reform process," he said. "Sitting where I sit, and having daily intimate knowledge of the various influences and dynamics and interplay with current Acts and regulatory constructs, that process needs to make use of broader concepts of convergence than those we have only just got used to, concepts that take into account the fact that we are dealing with deeply complex, indeed ambiguous, changes in communications and media today."

Internally, ACMA has undertaken an assessment of its regulatory role, looking at 98 different activities it conducts. Chapman said that in 37 of these activities, ACMA believes it is meeting or leading world's best practice, while there is room for improvement in another 61 areas. He said this report will be made public in October.