The Coalition party room has cleared media reforms proposed by Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, who will introduce legislation tomorrow to repeal two regulations in the Broadcast Services Act.
Fifield has proposed abolishing both the reach rule, which prevents mergers between regional television networks and their metropolitan affiliates, and the two-out-of-three rule, which stops any proprietor from owning a newspaper, radio station and television network in the same major market.
“The media laws that we have were drafted in an analogue world and for an analogue world,” Fifield told reporters in Canberra.
“Current laws are well intentioned; they were designed to provide and ensure diversity in a world with few options.”
Extra local content obligations will be imposed on regional networks to sustain local production if they are acquired by or merged with another company, taking effect six months after a merger “trigger event”.
This will comprise two points for new content relevant to a local area or three points for material that includes local footage.
The anti-siphoning list remains unchanged.
“If anti-siphoning was to be addressed I think it would need to enjoy broad support in the parliament,” he said.
Labor has been willing repeal the reach rule but has yet to back repeal of the two-out-three rule, meaning crossbench support may be critical to passing the legislation.
Support from media has been divided. News Corp and Seven West Media have been critical of the proposal.
Tim Worner, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Seven West Media said, “Media ownership changes might be great for the deal junkies out there but they are not going to ensure a strong future for Australian film and television production. You won’t see one more minute of local content as a result of these changes, in fact you will probably see a lot less, especially in regional Australia.
“It’s disappointing that the Government has not walked the talk when it says it wants to focus on innovation and the future.
“These changes tinker with rules put in place by the Howard Government 10 years ago. They do nothing to improve competitiveness or offer better services. The regulatory change that this industry is crying out for is to address the 4.5 per cent gross revenue licence fee that is crippling our ability to invest in local news, live sport, drama and other programming. And that is something that the 70 per cent of Australians who rely on free television highly value and don’t want to lose.”
But Ten Network Chief Executive, Paul Anderson, said: “Removing these archaic media laws is an important first step in dismantling a set of rules that are making Australian media companies less competitive in a global, converged media market.
“Ten Network is now competing directly for viewers and advertisers against large, global internet companies that are exempt from local media regulation, don’t pay television licence fees, pay minimal corporate tax despite taking billions in advertising revenue in this market, and in some cases don’t have a single local employee.
“Meanwhile, we pay the highest broadcasting tax in the world on top of our normal corporate taxes and we are held back by media ownership rules that don’t even recognise the existence of the internet,” he said.
“We welcome the Minister’s comments about addressing the onerous television licence fee regime.
“Addressing television licence fees and updating media laws are essential if we want to see a vibrant, diverse and competitive Australian media industry going forward. These changes are critical and urgent if we want to retain local voices in our media and a local content production industry,” Mr Anderson said.
This post updates.