Australian Communications and Media Authority is an Australian government agency whose main roles are to regulate broadcasting, radiocommunications and telecommunications, and to represent Australian interests in international communications matters. It also has a role in regulating Internet content standards.

On 1 July 2005, the Australian Communications and Media Authority replaced two former government agencies — the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) and the Australian Communications Authority (ACA). The ACA in turn came into existence on 1 July 1997 as the merger of the Spectrum Management Agency (SMA) and AUSTEL.

Administratively ACMA is part of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA). It is an independent authority with a board of five members.

Powers and funding

It exercises powers under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (in relation to broadcasting) and the Telecommunications Act 1997, the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 and the Radiocommunications Act 1992 and other related legislation (in relation to telecommunications).

ACMA works with the communications industry to achieve active self-regulation by industry and companies, while ensuring compliance with licence conditions, codes and standards. The ACMA monitors the effect of regulations to ensure they are responsive to the community’s needs.

Though ACMA is funded through the federal budget, it also collects substantial revenue on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia. Revenue is collected through telecommunications carrier and radiocommunications licence fees and charges, as well as through charges on telecommunications numbers. ACMA also collects revenue from price-based allocation of spectrum.

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 radiofrequency spectrum through radiocommunications licensing
  • Resolve competing demands for spectrum through price-based allocation methods
  • Regulates use of the radio-frequency spectrum and helps in minimising radiocommunications interference
  • 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 and the Special Broadcasting Service) 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 ACMA.

See: Plan for Cyber-Safety

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 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.

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, 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 fetuses, had been submitted to ACMA, who determined it was potential prohibited content, by the user whose post on Whirlpool containing ACMA’s reply was later subject to the link-deletion notice. This came with an $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 ACMA’s blacklist of banned sites had been leaked online, and had been published by Wikileaks(link). Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, obtained the blacklist after 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 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 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, 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 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 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, 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 at 6 August 2008 and contained 2,400 URLs, where the ACMA blacklist for the same date contained 1,061 URLs. He added that 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 ACMA partner, 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 Wikleaks 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 (p102) 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.


ACMA has about 550 staff in offices across Australia. It has central offices in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, and regional offices and operations centres around Australia.

See : Wikipedia

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