Australia’s broadcast media regulator is conducting less than half the number of investigations it was just five years ago – while the time it’s taking to complete those investigations has blown-out more than five-fold.
It can also be revealed the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has failed to publish any explanation about its secret changes to how it defines “complaints”, despite being alerted to the issue over three months ago.
In the past five years, the number of investigations ACMA conducts into broadcasters has plunged more than 60 per cent.
In the 2016-17 financial year it launched 114 investigations, compared to just 44 in 2020-21.
The number of investigations being undertaken by ACMA has plummeted. Source: ACMA
At the same time, ACMA’s timeframe for completing investigations has soared more than five-fold.
In 2016-2017 ACMA took an average of 1.3 months to complete investigations into alleged wrongdoing by the nation’s broadcasters.
Last financial year that timeframe had blown out to a massive 7.3 months.
ACMA is taking five times longer to complete investigations. Source: ACMA
In its latest annual report, for the 2020-21 financial year, ACMA provides no explanation for the blow-out, other than citing “the complexity of investigations” and Covid-19.
The 250-page document simply states ACMA failed to meet investigation timeframes: “due to the complexity of investigations and the redeployment of resources to address priorities caused by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
It provides no explanation as to why Covid-19 has allegedly been preventing ACMA from doing its taxpayer-funded job – or why the time it is taking to complete investigations has been increasing for several years, long before the pandemic.
The plummeting of broadcaster investigations – and surging of investigation timeframes – coincides with the Federal Coalition’s appointment Nerida O’Loughlin as ACMA chair, in October 2017, and its appointment of Creina Chapman, as ACMA’s CEO and deputy chair, in June 2018.
Chapman and O’Loughlin have repeatedly declined to comment when contacted by The Klaxon.
Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has also repeatedly declined to comment when contacted regarding the failings at ACMA, despite him being responsible for the government agency.
ACMA boss Chris Jose illegally paid $41,000 by Federal Government. Source: The Klaxon
As revealed by The Klaxon, fellow ACMA boss Chris Jose, who was appointed to ACMA in May 2018, was illegally paid $41,073 by the Federal Coalition.
Jose had illegally been appointed to two paid Federal Government jobs at the same time – his full-time job at ACMA and as a part-time boss at the National Competition Council – for two years until mid-2020.
When the illegal payments were discovered the matter was passed between five federal departments and agencies, before the debt to Jose was waived in full in highly unusual circumstances.
ACMA has been heavily criticised for failing to police wrongdoing by broadcasters.
Last year it emerged Google-owned giant YouTube had banned Australian broadcaster Sky News for spreading misinformation about Covid-19.
Those revelations raised major concerns about the operations of ACMA, including why it had fallen to a foreign internet company to police the Australian broadcaster, when it was ACMA’s taxpayer-funded job to do so.
Sky News is owned by US-based media conglomerate News Corporation.
Yesterday The Klaxonrevealed that ACMA last year secretly changed its methodology, giving the appearance that complaints from the public had crashed to all-time lows – when in fact they surged by over a third.
That means that at the same time as the number of investigations launched by ACMA has plunged – and the time it’s taking to complete investigations has surged – ACMA has changed its methodology of “complaints”, vastly understating the actual level of community concern.
ACMA’s annual 2020-21 report states that it received just 242 complaints from the public in the financial year.
That was a fraction of the 1,326 it reported in 2019-20 and the 1,072 it reported in 2018-19.
In fact, in September last year, ACMA secretly started characterising the vast majority of complaints it received from the public not as “complaints” – as it had for years – but instead as “enquiries”.
How The Klaxon broke the story yesterday. Source: The Klaxon
When looking at both complaints and enquires – and so comparing like-for-like – the numbers in 2020-21 were actually over 35 per cent higher than the previous two years.
ACMA changed its definition of “complaints” without making any mention of it in its 250-page annual report – or anywhere else.
The Klaxon first approached ACMA regarding the matter on December 24 last year.
On January 11 we received our first response.
In subsequent correspondence, ACMA confirmed it had made no disclosures regarding its change to its definition of “complaints”.
On February 3, ACMA said it would provide an “explanation of this change”.
“An explanation of this change in reporting will be included in our future quarterly reports on content complaints and actions made public on our website and in future annual reports,” wrote ACMA spokesman Kevin McAlinden.
“The next quarterly report will be released shortly.”
To date, ACMA has still not provided that explanation – or made a single reference to the changes in any of its published material.
The Klaxon can now reveal that ACMA’s “quarterly reports” regarding complaints have not been published for over five months.
ACMA is supposed to publish a report about its broadcasting investigations each quarter.
However it has not published any reports since the April-June quarter of 2021.
The information – regarding its own investigations – is available to ACMA at the end of each quarter.
ACMA has repeatedly failed to disclose why it is failing to report that information within a reasonable timeframe.
It is five months since the end of the July-September quarter, and two months since the end of the October-December quarter.
ACMA’s 2020-2021 annual report states: “We provide timely information about the rules and regulations we administer via…the ACMA website, including the publication of our investigations and enforcement actions”.
We put questions to ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin asking why ACMA had not published its last two quarterly reports regarding broadcaster investigations.
She declined to respond.
We also asked whether ACMA had made any disclosures regarding its changes to the definition of “complaint” – and, if so, where.
O’Loughlin again declined to respond.
More to come…
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