Thursday, May 30, 2013

Making sense of the legislative framework underlying MDA's move

When I blogged on Tuesday about MDA's decision to bring ten news sites under licensing conditions, there was no subsidiary legislation yet on the matter.

On 29 May 2013, the MDA has gone ahead to issue a subsidiary legislation:  The Broadcasting (Class Licence) (Amendment) Notification 2013.  This Notification amends the earlier Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification.  The amendment that has been made will cause Paragraph 3 to appear as follows:

"3. The provision of the following licensable broadcasting services are subject to a class licence except a computer on-line service provided on or after such date as the Authority specifies in a notice given to the provider of the service under paragraph 3A:
(a) audiotext services;
(b) videotext services;
(c) teletext services;
(d) broadcast data services;
(e) VAN computer on-line services; and
(f) computer on-line services that are provided by Internet Content Providers and Internet Service Providers."
The words in 'bold' represent the amendment. 
What has happened is that whereas in the past all sites were automatically licenced, the new legal position is that MDA can exclude a web site from the class licence.  The precondition for excluding a website from class licence is stipulated in a new paragraph 3A.  It is in this paragraph 3A that the now notorious stipulation of a reach of 50,000 unique IP addresses and at least 1 article per week is set out.  So, news sites excluded under the class licence would have to be registered under s.8 of the Broadcasting Act. 
Interestingly, even before the current development, websites and content providers that came within the class license were required to abide by the Class License Conditions and the Internet Code of Practice.  The change is that MDA will now designate certain sites as requiring licences.  These will be removed from the automatic licensing.  As a condition of specific licensing MDA can then require that a bond is furnished.  Using Yahoo News as an example.  YahooNews was already subject to the Class Licence.  Now it is going to be required to obtain a licence specically.  The news, if deemed to be objectionable, can be objected to and pulled out by MDA. 
So, the real issue is not about whether a site such as YahooNews should be subject to liecensing.  The issue is whether stipulating the requirement of a $50,000 performance bond will operate as a bar to many independant and alternative news sites in the future if these sites were forced to get themselves licensed.  Given the fact that moving a site from class licensing to specific licensing facilitates the State's ability muzzle articles, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this exercise is targetted at unfavourable alternative news sites. 
If the concern was about racist statements or such other offensive words, other laws already adequately address them.  There is no need to fool around with the automatic licensing regime.  The irresistable conclusion that one has to reach is that MDA wants to be able to force the removal of content through the threat of forfeiture of the performance bond.