Communications Minister details media reform overhaul | radioinfo

Communications Minister details media reform overhaul

Tuesday 01 March, 2016
Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield

Communicatons Minister Mitch Fifield has outlined the changes he plans for media reform legislation, marking the biggest change in media legislation in Australia in over 20 years.

"This package will represent the most significant media reform in Australia in a generation. It's a package that's important for media organisations, it's good news for consumers, and it particularly good news for consumers in regional areas," Fifield said.

Fifield said that these laws needed to be updated for our post analogue consumer world.

"The media laws that we have, were drafted in an analogue world, and for an analogue word. Technology is affording consumers new options as to how they consume their media and existing laws no longer represent the world that we live in and bit by bit technology and consumer choice are rendering those laws increasingly redundant."

"The laws are also increasingly constraining the capacity of media organisations to configure themselves in ways that are right for their business and right for their consumers. The current laws were well intentioned, they were designed to provide and ensure diversity of media in a world where there weren't many options. "

These announced changes include  repealing media ownership and control rules that currently prevent:

·         a person from controlling commercial television licences that collectively reach more than 75 per cent of the Australian population (the ‘reach rule’);

·         a person from controlling more than two of the three regulated forms of media (commercial radio, commercial television and associated newspapers) in the one commercial radio licence area (the ‘2 out of 3 rule’).

“The legislation will also abolish what is known as 2 out of 3 rule which prevents anyone from owning or controlling more than 2 out of 3 of the regulated traditional platforms of print, radio and TV.”

Fifield also detailed new measures to strengthen local content in regional areas by introducing obligations for regional commercial television licensees.

As part of these reforms, the Government will establish stronger local content obligations for regional commercial television licensees in the same way as the trigger event rules were applied to the radio industry.

“People who live in regional areas have a genuine and legitimate interest in local content and its protection. So as a part of the package that I'll be introducing into the parliament, we will be introducing new and higher local content protections after a trigger event.” Fifield said.

These new obligations would apply to the majority of regional free-to-air commercial television broadcasters who, as a result of a change in control known as a ‘trigger event’, become part of a group of commercial broadcasting licences whose combined licence area populations collectively exceed 75 per cent of the Australian population.

This ensures there is local content in nearly all regional areas following a trigger event, including those where there is none currently. This package also introduces an incentive for local news to be filmed in the local area. The Australian Communications and Media Authority will monitor and enforce these local content obligations.

Fified esays the changes are good news for the media industry, consumers and particularly regional consumers. It remains to be seen whether that will be true for the radio industry, which is likely to be less affected than television, but could experience knock on effects from ownership changes and mergers.

These changes are set to commence in 2016, subject to the passage of amending legislation, but that legislation is not guaranteed to pass the Senate. Labor has said it supports the reach rule, but has doubts about the 2 out of 3 rule - it could delay the legislation by sending it to a committee, or oppose it altogether, in which case the government woul need to court cross bench support to push it through. Meanwhile, backbenchers in regional electorates will no doubt be hearing the views of local media proprietors about the issue from one viewpoint or another.

The Government is maintaining other diversity rules including the ‘5/4’ rule, the ‘one-to-a market’ rule or the ‘two-to-a-market’ rule. Changes to the anti-siphoning list are not part of this package.

Large regional broadcasters SCA, WIN and Prime have welcomed the Minister's initiative.

Fifield spoke to ABC RN Breakfast's Fran Kelly this morning and when pressed by Kelly to guarantee regional funding for the ABC, Fifield replied "the ABC is and always as been and always will be very important in regional Australia. Which is why at the end of last year there was some sensitivity when there were some changes made by ABC management to regional radio. There’s a great sense of ownership of rural and regional ABC radio. And that’s important. So that will continue. But we also want to make sure that we have a good and strong and a viable future for TV in regional areas and that there are good local content protections. So we’re through this legislation introducing new and higher local content protections in the aggregated markets. And in the non-aggregated markets in the major population centres introducing a baseline of local content for the first time. So that’s good news for regional Australia."

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