ABA On-line/Internet Regulation Investigation - report on meeting 16 Oct
Wed, 18 Oct 1995 07:37:53 +1000
to: ACS Members and the net community
This is to report on an initial meeting between the Australian Computer
Society (ACS) and the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) on the issue
of on-line/Internet regulation.
The ABA is undertaking an investigation into on-line services at the
direction of the Minister for Communications and the Arts, signed 24 July
1995. A copy of the direction is at:
The meeting was at the invitation of Peter Webb, Chairman of the ABA. On
Monday morning between 10am and 11:30 I met with Karen Koomen, Manager of
the ABA's On-line Services Investigation Task Force and John Mikler, ABA
Assistant Manager Policy.
The ACS was asked for issues which might be addressed by the ABA and
possibly included in a discussion paper. The ABA emphasised it is only at
the preliminary stage of its investigation and there will be the opportunity
for putting written submissions as part of a public consultation process.
The ACS had already made several submissions on the general issue of
Internet regulation and censorship, to several previous Government and
Parliamentary inquiries. The submissions to and results of, those inquiries
are available to the ABA, so I did not propose to go over these again. I
suggested we concentrate on matters related to broadcasting, which are the
only ones within the brief of the ABA.
The issues I put to the ABA were:
* WHAT IS BROADCASTING?: Can it be distinguished from other forms of
communication in a "converged" technical environment? What aspects of the
Internet, if any, may be considered broadcasting?
* REGULATING A NON-CORPORATE GLOBAL NET: The ABA now regulates a few, well
defined organisations in Australia. Can this regulatory environment cope
with millions of individuals and informal groups, working world wide on the
* RELEASE DOCUMENTS ON-LINE AND ON PAPER: I recommended that the ABA Task
Force put all public material on-line at the same time they are released on
* HOLD A SEMINAR FIRST: I proposed the ABA hold a seminar similar to the one
in April by the Senate committee. This was very useful for clarifying the
issues for the Senators, their staff, the participants and the community.
* THE ELECTION: The Government has directed the ABA to report after the
election. This places the investigation in a political context. Any comment
the ABA makes before the election may be used as ammunition in the political
process. The results of the investigation will not be available to the
political parties in formulating policies for the election, nor to the
voters in choosing the next Government.
* ACS WILL HELP WITH REGULATION: The ACS is prepared to assist with the
setting up of self regulation mechanisms for on-lines services. It has
experience with codes of ethics/conduct and disciplinary procedures for its
members. However the limits to which such mechanisms can be applied for
Internet based on-line services must be recognised.
The ABA staff emphasised that the ABA is an independent body, which is
undertaking an inquiry at the direction of the Minister for Communications.
The ABA's interpretation of the direction is that it goes beyond
"broadcasting". However the ABA considers it unlikely that it will be
concentrating on issues, such as the censorship of private e-mail and
industry competition policy, but might may recommendations to be addressed
by other bodies. The ABA will make use of the results of previous Government
inquiries, to avoid duplication of effort.
The ABA will be setting up a Web home page with inquiry documents on it.
They have e-mail, but are having some technical difficulties getting it to work.
Rather than a seminar, the ABA is planning to hold a meeting with industry
in the next few weeks. They see this as a way to bring together the various
industry bodies, to look at the issues of self regulation.
For details of the ABA's investigation and details of previous on-line
regulation inquiries, see:
The ABA is only at the preliminary stage of its investigation and have
emphasised there will be the opportunity for putting written submissions as
part of a public consultation process.
Contact details for the ABA:
Manager On-line Services Investigation Task Force
fax: +61 2 3347799
(also send a CC to: remote-printer.ABA_OnLine@6123347799.iddd.tpc.int)
Overall I was impressed that the ABA staff had a grasp of the issues, but
concerned at a lack of pratical experience (as illustrated by problems with
their e-mail and no operating Web page). It is not clear that the ABA is
equipped to undertake a wide ranging investigation into on-line regulation,
nor is it clear it has been directed to do so, or that this is within its
I invite members of the Australian Computer Society to make suggestions, as
to how the we should address these issues. Members and other may wish to
discuss the issues in the ACS's newsgroup: AUS.ORG.ACS.
Tom Worthington, Director of the Community Affairs Board & President-elect
Australian Computer Society Inc., G.P.O. Box 446, Canberra A.C.T. 2601,
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Home page: http://acslink.net.au/~tomw/
Fax: +61 6 2496419