On 26 April 2018, the Australian Government released an issues paper for the Inquiry into the competitive neutrality of Australia's national broadcasters (the Inquiry), marking the start of a public consultation period.

The Inquiry will examine whether Australia's public broadcasting channels, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), are adhering to principles of competitive neutrality and appropriately competing with the private sector. Competitive neutrality is a central tenant of Australian competition policy, which aims to provide a level playing field for all industry members, whether government owned or private.

Lead by an expert Panel, the Inquiry will investigate the extent to which both the ABC and SBS apply competitive neutrality principles to their business activities. This includes a focus on:

  • the cost structures of business activities
  • the regulatory obligations on the ABC and SBS compared with their private sector counterparts
  • the adequacy of current compliance and reporting measures
  • competitive neutrality accountability and complaints handling mechanisms

The Inquiry follows reforms in 2017 to Australia's media ownership laws, also prompted by evolving competition concerns in the media industry. This Inquiry presents further opportunity for commercial broadcasters to raise any concerns with the competition regulation of the media industry in Australia and raise any concerns as to the competitive advantage of public broadcasters.

The increasingly diverse methods of online content delivery and evolving technologies in the media landscape is causing broad changes to the industry on a global level. Given that competitive neutrality principles feature in the competition landscapes of many jurisdictions, the Inquiry's progress may be indicative of broader developments for public broadcasters internationally.

A copy of the government's issues paper can be found here. Written submissions on the questions raised in the issues paper are due by 22 June 2018.