Digital plan faces inquiry

The federal government's plans for the introduction of digital television are set to face a Senate Inquiry next year.

The Federal Opposition will "insist" the Government's plans for the introduction of digital television face a Senate Committee, according to the Shadow Minister for Communications, Stephen Smith.

The Democrats' broadcasting and communications' spokesperson, Senator Vickie Bourne, expressed reservations over the Government's "haste" to set digital standards.

The Government's plans require existing broadcasters to offer both high definition (HDTV) and standard definition (SDTV) formats, while restricting datacasting to programs that are "distinctly different from current television services".

Datacasters will be prevented from showing most genres of television programs viewers are familiar with including comedy, drama, current affairs, sport, music, and lifestyle programs.

Instead, the content will be restricted to programs that provide information on particular products and services, interactive home shopping and banking, Web pages, e-mail services, education services and interactive games.

Responding to the Government's plans, Smith said the Labor Party would consult with industry on the detail of the Government's decision, to "determine a detailed legislative response".

"Labor will insist that the Government's legislation arising from its decision today is referred to the appropriate Senate Committee to enable detailed industry, public and parliamentary scrutiny," Smith said.

Also responding to the plans, Bourne accused the Government of trying to rush digital legislation through parliament and the Senate "without proper debate or public consultation".

"Digital television has vast and exciting potential. However, if the Government gets it wrong, all Australians will have to live with the consequences for years to come," Bourne said.

Bourne said Parliament should not consider digital legislation until "next February at the earliest" - when a Productivity Commission inquiry into digital TV, and the Minister for Communications' own digital Convergence Review were completed.

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David Smedley

PC World

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