A new broadcasting category called ‘narrowcasting’ was introduced by the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. Originally thought of as a radio medium, television narrowcasters also broadcast in and into Australia.
Narrowcasting is a creature of legislation, yet narrowcasters operate under a ‘class licence’, allowing them to provide a service without ever having to ‘apply’ for a licence under the Act. Many narrowcasters use low-power transmission licences under the Radiocommunications Act 1992, but they can use any transmission technology so long as the service can be received by an audience. Narrowcasters are required to comply with the standard conditions applying to all broadcasters, and they must also create and abide by Codes of Practice.
Two types of narrowcasting exist—subscription (pay) and open (free)—sharing descriptive criteria intended to fill a gap in the services provided by commercial and community broadcasters. Narrowcasting has a niche or specialty remit, and is intended to provide services for special-interest groups, in limited locations (such as arenas or business premises), during a limited period or to cover a special event, to provide programs of limited appeal and other types of niche services.
Despite the intention that narrowcasting should have a narrow focus, a number of open radio narrowcasters interpreted these rules broadly, and set up services in competition with commercial and community broadcasters. After a series of complaints, investigations and findings against a number of narrowcasters, the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) issued Clarification Notices in 2001 (varied in 2011), specifying the types of content narrowcasters are allowed to provide and the amount of time they are allowed to broadcast. Typically, narrowcasters can broadcast special events and pre-recorded looped services such as tourist information stations, and content with a narrow remit, such as religious services (but not popular religious music) and ethnic broadcasting. Since 2002, open radio narrowcasters have been required to provide the ABA—now the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)—with information about their service, and any changes.
Anti-Terrorism Standards have applied to open and pay television narrowcasters since 2006. Following amendments in 2008 and 2011, narrowcasters cannot broadcast material that directly recruits a person to join, or participate in, the activities of a ‘listed terrorist’, solicit funds or assist in the collection or provision of funds for a listed terrorist, or advocate the doing of a terrorist act.
REFs: ACMA, Narrowcasting for Radio: Guidelines and Information About Open and Subscription Narrowcasting Radio Services (May 2011), Guidelines Relating to the Broadcasting Services (Anti-Terrorism Requirements for Subscription Television Narrowcasting Services) Standard 2011 (July 2011), and Broadcasting Services (Anti-terrorism Requirements for Open Narrowcasting Television Services) Standard 2011 (July 2011).