Recently Completed Research Projects
- Google book case settlement and privacy issues - Alessandro Colonnier
- ACMA review on new standards in Broadcast licence, on stunts etc. Protecting phone ins. Should the standard be enforceable re: a minor on air - Scott Barnes
- Media Ownership - Cat Hogan
- NAVA guideline for artists and galleries - case studies - Christine Daher
Archive of Completed Projects
- Content, Consolidation and Clout
- Disability and Unfair Practices With Telecommunications Contracts
- CLC Review of Internet Auctions (2005-06)
- Fair Terms in Mobile Phone Contracts
- What Do "Ordinary" Australians Think is Defamatory
Content, Consolidation and Clout
In April 2006 the CLC released Content, Consolidation and Clout: How will regional media be affected by media ownership changes? Our research in four locations - Wollongong, Townsville, Launceston and Toowoomba - shows that regional centre's have very few sources of local news and that some residents are angry at the poor quality and lack of coverage of major events. Director of the CLC at Victoria University, Elizabeth Beal, says: "This new report shows that mergers between regional media companies will lead to significant consolidation in regional Australia."
Information about this project including how to purchase copy of the report and the media release is available at www.comslaw.org.au/ccc (opens an external site).
Disability and Unfair Practices With Telecommunications Contracts
In March 2006, the Communications Law Centre (CLC) at Victoria University released Not So Special: Telecommunications Contracts, Disability and Unfair Practices, a report which examines disputes between telecommunications providers and people with "judgment-related" disabilities in Victoria. Judgment-related disabilities can include intellectual disabilities, brain injuries, mental illness and dementia.
For further information about this project and how to order a copy of the report see www.comslaw.org.au/NotSoSpecial (opens an external site).
Review of Internet Auctions (05-06)
The Communications Law Centre is conducting a review in 2005-06 of Australian consumer issues at online auctions. The review is part of the project "Online auctions: user protection and liability issues" funded by a grant from the TPA Consumer Trust (administered by the ACCC).
Information about this project is available at www.comslaw.org.au/auction. (opens an external site)
Fair Terms in Mobile Phone Contracts
Louisa has a mobile phone on a contract with four months left to run. She is having trouble making ends meet at the moment and decides she can no longer afford the phone. However she finds out that if she ends the contract, not only will she have to pay for the remaining time, but the company wants to charge her a large termination fee. They point out that this in the contract so that legally Louisa must pay it.
The Centre's work on fair terms in telecommunications contracts builds on a substantial body of previous research which has contributed to some important changes in the telecommunications field.
In 2000 the CLC was funded by the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) and the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) to research the extent of unfair contract terms in telecommunications contracts. In February 2001 the CLC released the report Unfair Practices and Telecommunications Consumers. The report analysed complaints data (on an anonymous basis) from both the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the TIO. It also involved a review of contract terms in use in the industry in 2000.
The CLC found that consumers were incurring costs, experiencing significant frustrations and at times facing legal action as a result of contract disputes with suppliers. The problems were heightened by the use of standard form agreements which consumers had no opportunity to review or change. Often consumers had no legal protection in unfair situations.
Tony cannot use his internet service for a month because 'the system is undergoing modification'. He doesn't see why he should continue paying for the service for that time, but when he rings the provider they say that by signing the contract he agreed that they are allowed to suspend the service for any reason but that he must keep paying.
In response to the issues raised in the Unfair Practices report, a working committee of the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF) was formed to develop an industry guideline on the two topics of unfair terms and intelligibility and clarity of contract information. The Guideline was published in December 2002.
In early 2003 the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) sought comment from industry and consumers on the operation of the Guideline. The CLC submitted its Report on Fair Terms in Telecommunications Consumer Contracts (2003), which concerned unfair terms in mobile phone standard forms of agreement, measured against the fairness threshold set by the ACIF Guideline.
On the basis of this report, in August 2003 the ACA commissioned the CLC to review the contractual documentation of major telecommunications providers for compliance with the requirements of the Consumer Contracts Guideline. The CLC study related to fixed line and mobile services, as well as internet (both dial-up and broadband) services. The CLC found that while some telecommunications providers were better than others in some areas, all providers and all types of services breached the Guideline. Refer Telecommunications Consumer Contracts: Compliance with the ACIF Consumer Contracts Industry Guideline.
Peter usually paid his bills on time but this month he was two days late. His telecommunications provider terminated the service. Melissa was with the same company, and was up to date with her landline bill but in arrears on her mobile account with the same provider. The provider disconnected her landline account. Both Peter and Melissa were told 'it's in the contract'.
The range and number of unfair terms found by the CLC review indicate that there is a total failure of self-regulation of the telecommunications market, with unfair terms being a systemic industry problem. The report also considered the adequacy of the Guideline in addressing consumer detriment.
Following the completion of the report, the ACA wrote to the ACIF requesting that the ACIF develop a Code in relation to consumer contracts and present it for registration within 180 days. To assist with the development of the Code the CLC was further commissioned to draft a Model Consumer Contract for the telecommunications industry, covering fixed line mobile and internet services. This was presented to the ACA on 30 January 2004.
In the meantime, in Victoria in October 2003, the Fair Trading Act 1999 (Vic), was amended so that the use of unfair terms in consumer contracts is now prohibited. In early 2004, Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) commissioned the CLC to report on the use in Victoria of unfair terms in consumer contracts for mobile phone services. The report was submitted to CAV at the end of May 2004.
What Do "Ordinary" Australians Think is Defamatory
Is defamation law out of touch with present-day social values in Australia? Is it still damaging to someone's reputation to say they are homosexual, or sexually active before marriage, or that they have smoked marijuana?
The Communications Law Centre, (then at the University of New South Wale) launched an unprecedented project to ask Australians what they consider to be defamatory, how they interpret defamatory material and what they think defamation law should do.
The National Defamation Research Project was headed by Michael Chesterman, Emeritus Professor from UNSW's Faculty of Law and UNSW Professor Philip Bell, Head of the School of Media and Communications. It was funded by the Australian Research Council in partnership with John Fairfax Holdings, the Seven Network, the Australian Publishers Association, and law firm Cornwall Stodart.
Professor Chesterman said: "The defamation laws talk about 'ordinary reasonable people', but who are they and what do they think? How successful are judges in keeping in touch with contemporary values? This defamation project is the first of its kind to put these questions to the public."
Professor Bell explained: "The project will also focus on how the media deals with defamation law. Their practices and concerns about the application of libel laws will be examined in the context of new and emerging communications technologies."