Fined portal chief says Spam Act should go further

The online car yard fined for breaching the Spam Act has hit out at legal inconsistencies in the regulation of marketing communications in Australia, claiming current spam legislation gives major media players an unfair commercial advantage.

Melbourne-based carsales.com.au has been fined $6500 by the Australian Communications Authority for spruiking its services by way of unsolicited SMS to private car sellers in contravention of the Spam Act.

Carsales.com.au is an unlisted public company predominantly owned by automotive traders looking to circumvent the domination of newspapers in motor-related classified advertising.

While putting his hand up to the "unintentional" Spam Act breach, carsales.com.au CEO Greg Roebuck said it is unfair his company is banned from sending unsolicited text messages while daily newspapers are still allowed to "call people in the middle of dinner...as many times as they want". Daily newspapers routinely besiege advertisers in rival publications in an effort to entice people selling cars to switch publications or take out advertising in rival publications.

Not having an outbound call centre, carsales.com says it merely went one technological step further by contacting prospects in rival publications via SMS - wrongly assuming it had gained implied consent from private car sellers by virtue of the advertisements they placed in newspapers.

"It seems crazy to us that people with call centres can still call people. The Spam Act overlooks that. [Legislation] needs to be consistent. We genuinely believe that the practice of our traditional print-based competitors using call centres to contact car advertisers is far more intrusive and unwelcome than an SMS," Roebuck said.

He added while newspapers are allowed to contact his customers by phone, the very same publications refuse his advertising because they regard carsales.com.au as a direct competitor.

He alleged News Ltd, Fairfax and the Trading Post had all so far refused to let him advertise in their pages.

Asked whether carsales.com.au had been refused advertising space, a spokesman for Fairfax declined to comment other than saying "we don't carry advertising for News Ltd [or] The Trading Post either".

Intriguingly, Fairfax acquired 11.6 percent of CarSales.com.au in February 2005 after Yahoo sold its interest in the portal as part of a complex, cross-channel content distribution deal between Fairfax and Yahoo.

A statement from Fairfax at the time of the sale described the acquisition as "a friendly strategic investment that will further Fairfax's participation in any future restructuring of online automotive sites".

Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan is travelling in the Northern Territory and was unavailable for immediate comment.

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