Australian Communications and Media Authority
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is an Australian government
Government of Australia
The Commonwealth of Australia is a federal constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democracy. The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 as a result of an agreement among six self-governing British colonies, which became the six states...

 statutory authority within the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (Australia) (DBCDE) portfolio. The ACMA is tasked with ensuring most elements of Australia's media and communications legislation, related regulations, and numerous derived standards and codes of practice operate effectively and efficiently, and in the public interest.

The ACMA is also a 'converged' regulator, created to bring together the threads of the evolving communications universe, specifically in the Australian context the convergence of the four 'worlds' of telecommunications, broadcasting, radiocommunications and the internet. The ACMA was formed on 1 July 2005 by a merger of the responsibilities of the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Australian Communications Authority. It was created, as least in part, to respond to the observed and anticipated changes brought about by this convergence and is one of only a handful of converged communications regulators in the world.


The ACMA is an independent agency with the Authority comprised of the Chairman, Deputy Chair, one full-time Member, five part-time Members and one Associate Member. The ACMA is managed by an executive team comprising the Chairman (who is also the Chief Executive Officer of the agency), the Deputy Chair, the full-time Member, six general managers and 16 executive managers. The corporate structure comprises six divisions - Digital Transition, Communications Infrastructure, Digital Economy, Content, Consumer and Citizen, Corporate Services and Coordination, and Legal Services.

The ACMA has responsibilities under four principle Acts - the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the Telecommunications Act 1997, the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 and the Radiocommunications Act 1992. There are another 22 Acts to which the agency responds in such areas as spam, the Do Not Call Register, and interactive gambling. The ACMA also creates and administers more than 523 legislative instruments including radiocommunications, spam and telecommunications regulations, and licence area plans for free-to-air broadcasters.

The ACMA collects revenue on behalf of the Australian Government through broadcasting, radiocommunications and telecommunications taxes, charges and licence fees. It also collects revenue from price-based allocation of spectrum.

ACMA offices are located in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. A total of 586 staff (full-time equivalence)were employed by the ACMA at the end of November 2011.

Main functions

In respect of telecommunications, the stated aims of the ACMA are to:
  • Work to ensure quality communications services are available.
  • Represent Australia in international regulation of communications (see International Telecommunications Union)
  • Manage access to the radio-frequency spectrum through radio communications licensing
  • Resolve competing demands for spectrum through price-based allocation methods
  • Regulates use of the radio-frequency spectrum and helps in minimising radio communications interference
    Interference (communication)
    In communications and electronics, especially in telecommunications, interference is anything which alters, modifies, or disrupts a signal as it travels along a channel between a source and a receiver. The term typically refers to the addition of unwanted signals to a useful signal...

  • License telecommunications carriers and ensure compliance with licence conditions and carriage service provider rules
  • Regulate industry compliance with mandatory standards and voluntary codes of practice
  • Administer legislative provisions relating to powers and immunities of carriers in constructing telecommunications facilities
  • Monitor compliance with consumer safeguards and service guarantees
  • Administer universal service initiatives
  • Report and inform the Australian community about communications regulation and industry performance
  • Maintain and administer the Telecommunications Numbering Plan (for telephones)
  • Inform industry and consumers about communications regulation

In respect of broadcasting:
  • develops licence area plans, and issuing and renewing licences for television and radio broadcasting in a range of licence classes including commercial, community, subscription, datacasting and narrowcasting;
  • administers the ownership and control rules for broadcasting services
  • oversees program content by investigating complaints about breaches of industry codes of practice, as well as complaints about the national broadcasters (Australian Broadcasting Corporation
    Australian Broadcasting Corporation
    The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, commonly referred to as "the ABC" , is Australia's national public broadcaster...

     and the Special Broadcasting Service
    Special Broadcasting Service
    The Special Broadcasting Service is a hybrid-funded Australian public broadcasting radio and television network. The stated purpose of SBS is "to provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect...

  • administers the introduction of digital TV and radio.

Internet censorship and criticisms

Since January 2000, internet content considered offensive or illegal has been subject to a statutory scheme administered by the ACMA.

Established under Schedule 5 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the online content scheme evolved from a tradition of Australian content regulation in broadcasting and other entertainment media. This tradition embodies the principle that – while adults should be free to see, hear and read what they want – children should be protected from material that may be unsuitable for (or harmful to) them, and everyone should be protected from material that is highly offensive.

The online content scheme seeks to achieve these objectives by a number of means such as complaint investigation processes, government and industry collaboration, and community awareness and empowerment. While administration of the scheme is the responsibility of the ACMA, the principle of ‘co-regulation’ underpinning the scheme reflects parliament’s intention that government, industry and the community each plays a role in managing internet safety issues in Australia. The ACMA has a significant cyber safety education program called CyberSmart which provides resources for youth, parents and teachers.

Some people strongly disagree with this approach. They say the Australian constitution does not clearly provide either the states or the Federal Government power to censor online content, so internet censorship in Australia is typically an amalgam of various plans, laws, acts and policies. The regulator has been criticised for its role in examining internet censorship in Australia and how it is enabled and might further be enabled. Particular criticism has been leveled at the regulator's technical understanding of what is involved overall in internet regulation and censorship.

On 10 March 2009, the ACMA issued the Australian web-hosting company, Bulletproof Networks, with an "interim link-deletion notice" due to its customer, the Whirlpool internet community website, not deleting a link to a page on an anti-abortion web site. The web page, which is the 6th of a series of pages featuring images of aborted foetuses
A fetus is a developing mammal or other viviparous vertebrate after the embryonic stage and before birth.In humans, the fetal stage of prenatal development starts at the beginning of the 11th week in gestational age, which is the 9th week after fertilization.-Etymology and spelling variations:The...

, had been submitted to the ACMA, who determined it was potential prohibited content, by the user whose post on Whirlpool containing the ACMA's reply was later subject to the link-deletion notice. This came with an A$11,000 per day fine if the take down was not actioned after 24 hours. In order for other URLs contained on the same website to be 'prohibited', a separate complaint would need to be submitted and reviewed by the ACMA.

ACMA blacklist leaked

On 19 March 2009 it was reported that the ACMA's blacklist of banned sites had been leaked online, and had been published by Wikileaks
WikiLeaks is an international self-described not-for-profit organisation that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers. Its website, launched in 2006 under The Sunshine Press organisation, claimed a database of more...

. Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, obtained the blacklist after the ACMA blocked several Wikileaks pages following their publication of the Danish blacklist. Assange said that "This week saw Australia joining China and the United Arab Emirates as the only countries censoring Wikileaks." Three lists purporting to be from the ACMA were published online over a seven day period.

The leaked list, which was reported to have been obtained from a manufacturer of internet filtering software, contained 2395 sites. Approximately half of the sites on the list were not related to child pornography, and included online gambling sites, YouTube
YouTube is a video-sharing website, created by three former PayPal employees in February 2005, on which users can upload, view and share videos....

 pages, gay, straight, and fetish pornography sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions, Christian sites, and even the websites of a tour operator and a Queensland dentist. Colin Jacobs, spokesman for lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia
Electronic Frontiers Australia
Electronic Frontiers Australia Inc. is a non-profit Australian national non-government organisation representing Internet users concerned with online liberties and rights...

, said that there was no mechanism for a site operator to know they got on to the list or to request to be removed from it. Australia's Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy
Stephen Conroy
Stephen Michael Conroy is an Australian politician and the current Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy in the Gillard Ministry...

 later blamed the addition of the dentist's website to the blacklist on the "Russian mob".

Associate professor Bjorn Landfeldt of the University of Sydney
University of Sydney
The University of Sydney is a public university located in Sydney, New South Wales. The main campus spreads across the suburbs of Camperdown and Darlington on the southwestern outskirts of the Sydney CBD. Founded in 1850, it is the oldest university in Australia and Oceania...

 said that the leaked list "constitutes a condensed encyclopedia of depravity and potentially very dangerous material". Stephen Conroy said the list was not the real blacklist and described its leak and publication as "grossly irresponsible" and that it undermined efforts to improve "cyber safety". He said that ACMA was investigating the incident and considering a range of possible actions including referral to the Australian Federal Police
Australian Federal Police
The Australian Federal Police is the federal police agency of the Commonwealth of Australia. Although the AFP was created by the amalgamation in 1979 of three Commonwealth law enforcement agencies, it traces its history from Commonwealth law enforcement agencies dating back to the federation of...

, and that Australians involved in making the content available would be at "serious risk of criminal prosecution".

Conroy initially denied that the list published on Wikileaks and the ACMA blacklist were the same, saying "This is not the ACMA blacklist." He stated that the leaked list was alleged to be current on 6 August 2008 and contained 2,400 URLs, where the ACMA blacklist for the same date contained 1,061 URLs. He added that the ACMA advised that there were URLs on the leaked list that had never been the subject of a complaint or ACMA investigation, and had never been included on the ACMA blacklist. He was backed up by ISP Tech 2U, one of six ISPs involved in filtering technology trials.

Conroy's denial was called into doubt by the Internet Industry Association (IIA), who publicly condemned the publishing of the list, chief executive Peter Coroneos saying, "No reasonable person could countenance the publication of links which promote access to child abuse images, irrespective of their motivation, which in this case appears to be political."

Conroy later claimed the leaked blacklist published on Wikileaks closely resembled the official blacklist, admitting that the latest list (dated 18 March) "seemed to be close" to ACMA's current blacklist.

In an estimates hearing of the Australian Federal Government on 25 May 2009 it was revealed that the leak was taken so seriously that it was referred to the Australian Federal Police for investigation. It was further stated that distribution of further updates to the list have been withheld until recipients can improve their security. Ms Nerida O'Laughlin of the ACMA confirmed that the list has been reviewed and as of 30 April consists of 997 urls.

See also

External links

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