Mass media in Australia

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Adults employed in the information media and telecommunications industries as a percentage of the adult population in Australia divided geographically by statistical local area, as of the 2011 census

Mass media in Australia spans traditional and digital formats, and caters mostly to its predominantly English-speaking population. It is delivered in a variety of formats including radio, television, paper, internet and IPTV. Varieties include local, regional, state, federal and international sources of media, reporting on Australian news, opinion, policy, issues and culture.

Australia has been on a decline on the Press Freedom Index, in reflection of rising media censorship and intimidation of journalists in the country, including media companies maintaining close ties to political leaders, fueling doubts about editorial independence.[1] Two giant firms dominate mass media in Australia – Nine Entertainment and News Corp Australia, a subsidiary of American-based News Corp. The country was ranked 19th out of 180 countries in 2018, before subsequently dropping to 26th out of 180 countries for 2020 and 39th in 2022.[1]


Free-to-air TV[edit]

New South Wales and Victoria were introduced to television in 1956, with the other states and territories following suit up to 1971 (the Northern Territory). Colour television was introduced in 1975.[2]

In addition to the public broadcasters which are available to almost all of Australia's population, there are three major commercial television networks: the Seven Network, the Nine Network and Network 10. Most of Australia's heavily populated cities are serviced by all three networks. Some rural or regional areas may receive a more limited selection, often with some of the channels available showing programming from more than one of the major networks. An example of such a "shared" regional network is Imparja.

Digital free-to-air broadcasts commenced on 1 January 2001. Analogue broadcasts were originally intended to be phased out by 2008, however analogue phaseout was not achieved until 2013.

After heated debate in the early 2000s over a Bill that would have removed the foreign ownership restrictions of broadcasting TV licences, the Keating government chose to retain the foreign-ownership restrictions in its 1992 Broadcasting Act. The Howard government was set to remove this law sometime in 2007, having gained parliamentary approval to change the legislation in 2006.

In 2007, with Helen Coonan as communications minister, there were two significant changes. Foreign ownership limits were scrapped, government changed the cross-media ownership rules to allow ownership of two out of three media types.[3]

Pay TV & Streaming Services[edit]

Approximately 25% of Australian households had access to pay television services by the end of 2005. The main provider is Foxtel in both metropolitan, regional and rural areas offering nearly all Australian channels via cable & satellite TV in capital cities, and mostly the same channels are offered by Foxtel via satellite TV (predominantly) in regional areas with the recent merger with Austar in 2012.

In mid-2016 the number of Australians with access to some form of pay television outstripped those with without. At the end of 2019 14.5 million Australians had access to some form of Pay TV or Subscription TV, with the combined audience of these platforms equalling almost 70% of the population.[4] Netflix remains the market leader, although Foxtel and Stan have gained continual growth since entering the market.

There are several smaller competitors offer a subset of channels – with Fetch TV entering the market in 2010 with a subscription service over a few ADSL2+ networks, and TransACT offering TV via its own VDSL, VDSL2 and FTTP/FTTH networks in Canberra and its Neighbourhood Cable network in parts of Victoria. Other providers of Internet television in Australia offer free content or PPV, but don't offer a subscription product. UBI World TV offers a number of ethnic satellite TV and Radio channels nationwide, and other small companies offer some channels via satellite, especially foreign services or free-to-air channels, and some channels are available over the Internet.


Netflix was released in Australia and New Zealand 24 March 2015.[5][6] As of February 2019, 11.2 million Australians had a Netflix subscription in their household, up 25% on a year before that.[7]

Netflix has been criticised for not "telling" Australian stories by former ABC managing director Mark Scott.[8] Research has found that Australian film and television made up less than 2% of Netflix's Australian catalogue in 2018.[9] In 2020, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission floated a proposal to subject Netflix to local content requirements.[10][11] However, this proposal was ultimately rejected by the government.


Stan (stylized as Stan.) is an Australian over-the-top streaming service. It was launched on 26 January 2015.[12] Stan originally was founded as StreamCo Media, a 50/50 joint venture between Nine Entertainment Co. and Fairfax Media. In August 2014, each company invested A$50 million in StreamCo.[13] StreamCo was renamed Stan Entertainment in December 2014, prior to the January 2015 launch of the streaming service. Nine Entertainment would ultimately acquire Fairfax Media in 2018, making Stan a wholly owned subsidiary of Nine Digital.

The service offers a broad range of film and television content from both local and foreign productions, particularly from the United States and United Kingdom. Stan also includes a growing library of their own original film and television content. With over 2.6 million subscribers, as of June 2023 Stan is the fourth largest streaming service in Australia, behind Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.[14]

Newspapers and news websites[edit]

Newspapers being loaded onto trucks outside the Sydney Morning Herald office, O’Connell St, Sydney, 1920

There are two national and 10 state/territory daily newspapers, 35 regional dailies and 470 other regional and suburban newspapers in Australia. Each state and territory has one or two dominant daily newspapers which focus upon the major national news while also containing news of importance for the state that it is sold in. These include: The Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), The Age (Melbourne), The Herald Sun (Melbourne) and The Canberra Times. The two national daily newspapers are The Australian and The Australian Financial Review, which are owned by different companies. Nearly all major metropolitan newspapers are owned either by News Limited, a subsidiary of News Corporation, or Nine Entertainment Co., with notable exceptions including The West Australian and The Sunday Times in Perth, and The Canberra Times in the nation's capital city.

Other notable newspapers and news websites are:, ABC News Online, Seven News Online, SBS News Online, Nine News, the Guardian Australia, The New Daily and The Saturday Paper.[15] Increasingly, news material is published online in Australia, sometimes exclusively.


Australia's first regular radio broadcasts began on 23 November 1923[16] with station 2SB (later to become 2BL) in Sydney. The ABC began broadcasting in 1932. [1] Talkback radio was first broadcast with 2UE in Sydney, just after midnight on 17 April 1967.[17] ABC began experimenting with FM stations in the 1960s, but it wasn't until July 1980 that the first FM station commenced full operations.[18] Melbourne-based 3EON (now known as Triple M)[19] was the first to air.[18]

In 2009, there were 274 operational commercial stations (funded by advertising) and 341 community (publicly funded) radio stations.[20]

National news radio broadcasters include the Australian Broadcasting Corporation which operates 4 national radio news networks (including ABC NewsRadio and Radio National), 53 local news stations through ABC Local Radio and several digital radio stations; and the Special Broadcasting Service which also delivers multilingual Australian-produced news content.


Regulation of the media is principally assured by the Federal Government through its power to make laws governing telecommunications. The Australian states and territories also have important roles in this area, notably in the area of defamation law, although their laws may not conflict with a valid federal law.

The Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA) is the broadcasting regulator for radio and television in Australia, and also the co-regulatory Online Content Scheme. Consumers who have complaints about programs on television and radio or certain types of content on the Internet can apply to the ACMA. The Commercial Television Code of Practice is a set of regulatory guidelines, registered with the ACMA, with which commercial television broadcasters should comply.

The Australian Press Council is the self-regulatory body of the print media. The Council deals with complaints from the public about editorial material in newspapers and magazines published in Australia, and aims to maintain the freedom of the press.

Media ownership[edit]

Controls over media ownership in Australia are laid down in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, administered by the ACMA. Even with laws in place Australia has a high concentration of media ownership compared to other western countries. Ownership of national and the newspapers of each capital city are dominated by two corporations, News Corp Australia, (which was founded in Adelaide but is now based from the United States) and Nine Entertainment – News Corp-owned titles account for nearly two-thirds (64.2 per cent) of metropolitan circulation[21] and Nine-owned papers account for a further quarter (26.4 per cent).[21]

The Australian Associated Press (AAP) is owned by a not-for-profit organisation. The AAP distributes the news and then sells it on to other outlets such as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Although much of the everyday mainstream news is drawn from the AAP, all the privately owned media outlets still compete with each other for exclusive pop culture news.

Rural and regional media is dominated by Australian Community Media, with significant holdings in all states and territories. Rural Press received a takeover offer from Fairfax Media in late 2006, and completed the merger on 8 May 2007.[22]

There are rules governing foreign ownership of Australian media and these rules were loosened by Helen Coonan under the Howard Government via Act No. 129 of 2006 which allowed for changes to the cross-media and foreign ownership laws with the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2006 . These changes came into effect in 2007 and are still in Force. The changes relaxed restrictions against cross-media ownership & control by a single company.

According to Reporters Without Borders in 2006, Australia was in 35th position on a list of countries ranked by Press Freedom; well behind New Zealand (19th) and United Kingdom (27th) (but well ahead of the US, ranked 53rd). This ranking was primarily due to the restrictions imposed by the recent anti-terrorism laws. The problem, and the concentration of media ownership, was one of many mentioned on the television show Media Watch, broadcast on the government funded ABC. As of 2018 these rankings have changed with Australia moving up to 19th, New Zealand moving up to 8th and the United Kingdom falling to 40th.[23]

News Media Bargaining Code[edit]

The News Media Bargaining Code (NMBC, or News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code)[24] is a law designed to have large technology platforms that operate in Australia pay local news publishers for the news content made available or linked on their platforms. The law's definition of news is broad,[25] including "content that reports, investigates or explains ... current issues or events of public significance for Australians at a local, regional or national level."[26]: 3  Originating in April 2020, when the Australian Government asked the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) to begin drafting it, it achieved broad support in the Australian Parliament but staunch opposition from Facebook and Google.[27][28] In response, on 18 February 2021, Facebook blocked Australian users from sharing or viewing news content on its platform.[29] The Australian government strongly criticised the move, saying it demonstrated the "immense market power of these digital social giants".[30] A few days later, Australia and Facebook came to an agreement on restoring news pages.[31]

Media freedom[edit]

On 4 June 2019 the Australian Federal Police conducted a raid on the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst's home, looking for information connected to a story she had written a year earlier about new laws that would give the security forces new powers for surveillance over Australian citizens.[32] Radio host Ben Fordham also said he was under investigation for some of his reporting.[33]

The next day, the AFP raided the ABC over a story about alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.[34] The search warrant allowed the police to "add, copy, delete or alter" any files they found on the computers.[35]

The incidents caused an outcry of condemnation, even from the Reporters Without Borders, BBC and the New York Times.[36]

In Australia itself, newspaper outlets normally driven by partisanship and advertising exhibited a surprisingly united show of protest on 21 October as they published front pages with the appearance of documents having been blacked out by government censors. The protest demanded journalists gain access to sensitive government material.[37] Most of the larger media outlets formed a coalition, Right To Know, to represent the protest and demand six changes in legislation. The demands are, for the ability to contest any search warrant of a journalist or news entity while the search warrant is under request, reform of whistleblower protection, new limitations on which documents may be classified as secret, changes in freedom of information, exemption from national security laws enacted over the previous seven years, and reforms of defamation laws.[38]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Australia | Reporters Without Borders". RSF. Archived from the original on 28 April 2022. Retrieved 5 May 2022.
  2. ^ "Australian television history and trivia". Australian Broadcasting Authority. Archived from the original on 10 December 2005. Retrieved 31 December 2005.
  3. ^ "The history of media regulation in Australia". Radio National. 6 October 2015. Archived from the original on 28 March 2019. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  4. ^ "14.5 million Australians already have Pay TV / Subscription TV as Disney+ enters the market". Roy Morgan. Archived from the original on 24 August 2020. Retrieved 1 September 2020.
  5. ^ C-Scott, Marc (12 March 2015). "Netflix arrival will be a tipping point for TV in Australia". The Conversation. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  6. ^ Delaney, Bridget (19 November 2014). "Netflix says it will launch in Australia and New Zealand in March 2015". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  7. ^ "Netflix surges beyond 11 million users in Australia". Roy Morgan. 19 March 2019. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  8. ^ Meade, Amanda (4 April 2019). "Netflix won't tell Australian stories. We need the ABC for that, says Mark Scott". Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  9. ^ Lobato, Ramon; Scarlata, Alexa (15 October 2018). "Local film and TV content makes up just 1.6% of Netflix's Australian catalogue". The Conversation. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  10. ^ Meade, Amanda (27 November 2019). "ABC opposes quotas as Coalition plans to force Netflix to make more Australian content". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  11. ^ Simons, Margaret (16 April 2020). "Real long-term thinking on TV would mean Netflix and Stan are treated the same as free-to-air". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  12. ^ "Video streaming service Stan to launch on Australia Day". Mumbrella. 22 January 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  13. ^ White, Dominic (5 November 2014). "Fairfax, Nine announce joint venture streaming service". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  14. ^ "Australia's subscription entertainment market growth eases but remains vital". Telsyte. 28 August 2023. Retrieved 19 October 2023.
  15. ^ "Top Sites by Category: Regional/Oceania/Australia/News and Media". Alexa. Archived from the original on 11 May 2015. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  16. ^ "90th Anniversary of the station that became 702 ABC Sydney", by James O'Brien and Lawrence Champness, ABC Local Radio, 22 November 2013
  17. ^ Arneil, Chris; Butler, Rod (12 April 2017). "50 years of talkback radio". National Film & Sound Archive. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  18. ^ a b "25 years of Commercial FM". Radioinfo. 12 July 2005. Archived from the original on 18 August 2018. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  19. ^ Mishkind, Barry (26 November 2000). "Australian Broadcast History". The Broadcast Archive. Archived from the original on 14 June 2017. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  20. ^ Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Archived 30 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine Updated: 3/5/10
  21. ^ a b Calculated from circulation figures of metropolitan newspapers quoted in Wikipedia.
  22. ^ Rural Press, Fairfax officially merged Archived 4 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine, The Age, 9 May 2007.
  23. ^ "2020 World Press Freedom Index". Reporters without borders. Archived from the original on 22 May 2020. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  24. ^ "ParlInfo - Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021". Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  25. ^ "Understanding Facebook's News Ban in Australia, and What it Means for the Platform Moving Forward". Google Partner Team. 2021. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  26. ^ "Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2021". The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. 2021. Archived from the original on 18 February 2021. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  27. ^ Barbaschow, Asha (10 December 2020). "Media Bargaining Code enters Parliament despite Google and Facebook's best efforts". ZDNet. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  28. ^ "News media bargaining code". Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. 26 July 2020. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  29. ^ Meixner, Sophie (19 February 2021). "Facebook news ban drops reader traffic to news stories by 13 per cent within Australia, Chartbeat data shows". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  30. ^ "Facebook blocks Australian users from viewing or sharing news". BBC News. 19 February 2021. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  31. ^ Choudhury, Saheli Roy (22 February 2021). "Facebook to restore news pages for Australian users in coming days". CNBC. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  32. ^ "PM defends AFP raid on journalist Annika Smethurst's home". ABC News. 5 June 2019. Archived from the original on 6 June 2019. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  33. ^ "Ben Fordham targeted after AFP raid journo's home". 4 June 2019. Archived from the original on 6 June 2019. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  34. ^ Knowles, Lorna; Worthington, Elise; Blumer, Clare (5 June 2019). "Police leave ABC headquarters with files after hours-long raid over special forces stories". ABC News. Archived from the original on 5 June 2019. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  35. ^ "Australia: ABC offices raided by police in connection with 'Afghan Files' series". MSN. Archived from the original on 6 June 2019. Retrieved 6 June 2019.[dead link]
  36. ^ "World media condemns Australian Federal Police raids targeting journalists | SBS News". Archived from the original on 6 June 2019. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  37. ^ Colin Packham, Jonathan Barrett (20 October 2019). "Australian newspapers redact front pages to protest media curbs". Reuters. Archived from the original on 21 October 2019. Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  38. ^ Charles Miranda (20 October 2019). "Why Australia's Front Pages Have Been Blacked Out". GQ. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  • The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Media in Australia [2]
  • Kim Jackson, Parliament of Australia- Parliamentary Library, Media Ownership Regulation in Australia, 2003 [3]