Fifield accuses Labor of “pure opportunism” for blocking media reform package | radioinfo

Fifield accuses Labor of “pure opportunism” for blocking media reform package

Monday 10 July, 2017
Paul Kelly and Peter van Onselen

The normally understated Communications Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield didn’t hold back yesterday on Sky News, Sunday Agenda suggesting that if Labor persists in blocking the proposed media reforms in the Senate then many more jobs would be lost as Australian based media outlets find it harder to compete with international rivals available online.

“There are media organisations, the executives of, who have said to the Australian Labor Party, if these reforms don't go through and if we’ve got to shed more jobs then it will be on your heads. So Labor can’t just whistle and stare at the sky and act as though all of this has nothing to do with them. It does. They present themselves as the alternative government of the country. They should step up and support this package of reforms,” said Senator Fifield.

In response to a question from The Australian’s Paul Kelly about whether Labor’s resistance to reform is based on a concern that it’s going to give Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation too much power, Senator Fifield replied, “I think that's probably a factor in their consideration. But what I say to the Australian Labor Party is that, sure we all know News Limited are big supporters of media reform and the abolition of the two out of three rule. But so is Fairfax. So is Seven, Nine, Ten, Win, Prime, Southern Cross Austereo, ASTRA, Commercial Radio Australia, FreeTV. That the entire media industry is now on the one page. Whatever emotional responses they have to particular media organisations, quite frankly they’ve got to get over.

“It's no small thing that every Australian media organisation supports this package of reforms. And I’ve got to pay credit to the leadership of Australian media, that they have been able to move beyond their own legitimate organisational interests and look to the broader interests of the media as a whole. If Australian media executives can do that then surely to goodness the Australian Labor Party can do that,” said Senator Fifield.

You can read the full transcript of the Sky News interview below or listen to the podcast here

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

Sunday Agenda with Peter van Onselen & Paul Kelly

PVO

Senator thanks very much for your company. We know what's going on with Channel 10 we’ll get to some of those specifics in a moment. But in broad terms Senator, how hopeful are you that when you reconvene at the end of the winter recess that this reform package that you have been negotiating with the crossbenchers will get enough support to get through the Parliament?

Fifield

Peter, as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate I am by nature a legislative optimist and that's the approach I take to this legislation.

I'm having very good discussions with my crossbench colleagues.
As they have demonstrated over the last 12 months, they are very open to considering and to supporting good propositions. This is a Senate that has worked. We've got 165 pieces of legislation through since the election. 36 in the last sitting fortnight alone. So this is a Senate that we can work with.

The great disappointment for me is that the Australian Labor Party have completely absented themselves from what is good, practical, sensible reform that the entire media industry wants to see.

So I’ll keep working.

PVO

Can I just ask you on that? Do you think that they’re doing that from what you’ve been able to gather in your negotiations because of some ideological opposition to two-out-of-three? That seems to be the sticking point for them. Or do you think they're doing it to try to wedge you and the media companies because you’re saying it’s all or nothing because your package is what has media support. If you start disaggregating parts of it then that consensus in the industry collapses?

Fifield

I just think its pure opportunism. We’re seeing that same opportunism when it comes to our proposal to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Now I would have thought if there were two things that you could expect to put partisanship aside on it would be fully funding the NDIS and supporting media reform. So I just think its opportunism.

The Australian Labor Party don't care about strong Australian media voices. The Australian Labor Party don't care about journalists, their continued employment and the good work that they do, and the important work that they do in a democracy.

Kelly

Minister, you’ve been talking to the industry at length about this and as you say you've got broad support from the industry for your reforms.

What do you think as Minister will be the consequence within the industry, within individual companies and the consequences for jobs if this package is not passed?

Fifield

I think this package gives the Australian media industry a fighting chance. It will represent a shot in the arm by way of the tax cuts that we’re looking to give the broadcasters. And it also provides options for Australian media organisations to reconfigure themselves. Now in the absence of those things, Australian media is going to find it much harder going. And you've got to assume that will mean further job losses.

I want to see strong Australian media companies. I want to see strong Australian media voices and I want to see journalism thriving in Australia.

Now Paul one of the more bizarre things in the interactions that there have been with the Australian Labor Party, over media reform, was a question from Kieran Gilbert to my shadow, Michelle Rowland. And he said to her in an interview, “look the entire Australian media industry support this package, surely that's reason to have pause for thought and to support the package”. And her response was “well the Australian media industry is only supporting this because there is something in it for all of them”. I mean that's the Australian Labor Party’s reason for opposing this package is there is something in it for all of the Australian media industry. Of course there is, that's the objective.

Kelly

One of the arguments used by Labor of course is media concentration. Labor is saying that there is going to be even greater media concentration under your particular proposal. What's your response to that and what's your response to their argument about excessive ownership concentration?

Fifield

My response is twofold. Firstly, we will continue to have some important diversity protections. We’ll be maintaining what's known as the five/four or the voices rule which says that you've got to have five independent media voices in metro areas and four independent media voices in regional areas. We’ll be keeping the two to a market radio rule, which means that you can’t have a crowd that has more than two radio licences in and area. And we’ll be keeping the one to a market TV rule, which says you can’t have a crowd with more than one TV licence in a market. Also we’ll still have the ACCC protections. So those are still there.

But my great concern when it comes to diversity is not some consolidation that may come about as a result of media law changes. My great concern about diversity is the failure of an Australian media organisation. If we have Australian media organisations failing then that's not going to do anything to support diversity.

The other thing when it comes to diversity is people will often look at how concentrated the consumption habits of people are when it comes to the media. I think what's more important is to look at the range of options that are available to people when it comes to the media. And we have more options available to consumers than there ever has been before.

So I think the best thing that we can do to support continued diversity and to support strong Australian media voices is to do everything we possibly can to help their viability.

PVO

Once upon a time. You know this Minister, we’ve talked about this before. I saw value in the two out of three but it was pre what you were talking about with the diversity tht the internet now brings beyond the mainstream media. Would it be a fair characterisation in your mind, to call these reforms therefore if you like a lesser of evils? You know, it’s better to have an albeit more concentrated media notwithstanding the internet. Than the collapse of media organisations because of economic viability issues in the context of the broadening out of the media online?

Fifield

Look, I wouldn't characterise it that way. What I’d say is that this is just dealing with reality. This is recognising the media landscape as it is. This is recognising that there are a range of options which didn't previously exist. This is recognising that Australian media of longstanding is challenged. It's challenged by revenue shifting to online platforms. These are things that we can’t ignore. These are things that we’ve got to address. And our media laws have got to reflect the reality.

PVO

And with all the disclaimers in the world in terms of Sky News and News Corp, vis-a-vis what we know has been publicly announced, the bid between both Lachlan Murdoch and Mr Gordon for Channel 10. Is there and way that that can happen without media reform? Or is it just as simple as two out of three knocks them out?

Fifield

Well I’m always loath to comment on particular propositions, particular ownership propositions which are on the table. We’ve seen obviously that a proposition has been put forward and that the ACCC is doing some preliminary work. But it would be fair to say that the 75% audience reach rule and the two out of three rule would currently pose some challenges for further ownership changes in this area.

So I don't want to comment in particular on what has been proposed. But if you get rid of the 75% audience reach, if you get rid of the two out of three rule then it provides options in terms of dance partners for media organisations like Channel 10. And Paul Anderson the CEO of Channel 10 has been at the forefront of arguing for the abolition of two out of three and the abolition of the 75% audience reach. I want to give options to Australian media companies so that they can configure themselves in the way that best suits their viability.

Kelly

Not talking then about a particular proposal. Can I ask you in a general sense? To what extent do you think resistance from the Labor Party to your reforms is based on the Rupert Murdoch factor? That is concern about News Corporation the company we work for. Concern that it’s going to have too much power, concern it will have more power under these new rules than it does now. To what extent do you think that that bogie is really an issue here?

Fifield

Labor do jump at media bogeymen, as they perceive them. Labor do believe that there are gremlins in the Australian media industry. I think that's probably a factor in their consideration. But what I say to the Australian Labor Party is that, sure we all know News Limited are big supporters of media reform and the abolition of the two out of three rule. But so is Fairfax. So is Seven, Nine, Ten, Win, Prime, Southern Cross Austereo, ASTRA, Commercial Radio Australia, FreeTV. That the entire media industry is now on the one page. Whatever emotional responses they have to particular media organisations, quite frankly they’ve got to get over.

Kelly

You raised the possibility of a company failure just a few minutes ago in your answer to a question. To what extent do you think if there is a subsequent company failure and the law is not changed Labor will bare responsibility for that?

Fifield

Well I think Labor will bear some responsibility. And I know that there are media organisations, the executives of, who have said to the Australian Labor Party, if these reforms don't go through and if we’ve got to shed more jobs then it will be on your heads. So Labor can’t just whistle and stare at the sky and act as though all of this has nothing to do with them. It does. They present themselves as the alternative government of the country. They should step up and support this package of reforms.

It's no small thing that every Australian media organisation supports this package of reforms. And I’ve got to pay credit to the leadership of Australian media, that they have been able to move beyond their own legitimate organisational interests and look to the broader interests of the media as a whole. If Australian media executives can do that then surely to goodness the Australian Labor Party can do that.

PVO

If we can move away Senator from your portfolio just for a few moments. I've got to get your reaction to what has been in-between all these other policy debates this week, a week of destabilisation and internal fights. Ministers mouthing off at Tony Abbott. Tony Abbott offering some free advice and criticism at events they he's been invited to, including by front bench colleagues of yours. Have you been disappointed by the distraction?

Fifield

Well I know there's a media obsession with these sorts of issues.

PVO

I don't think you can blame us, can you. As the Communications Minister for reporting on what's going on internally in your own government.

Fifield

I don't blame the media at all. But I do recognise when they are intensely focused on a particular subject. I have my own media focus, I have my own media obsession which is to get this package through the parliament and that's what I'm working on night and day to secure.

Kelly

Minister what can be done about the Tony Abbott factor? I mean there's no doubt this has been damaging to the Government over the course of the last couple of weeks. Is there a solution? What ought to happen here?

Fifield

Paul I focus on the job at hand. And my advice to all colleagues is to focus on their job, the one that they have to hand. Focus on the tasks that they have been given. That’s what each of us should do.

PVO

I'm almost regretting at the moment Minister an article I wrote for the Australian on Friday suggesting that Ministers should stop commenting on Tony Abbott and simply say that they want to stick to their portfolio right about now. We’ll give it one last crack though if I can. It's not going to change unless something changes that was in essence I think Paul Kelly’s question just then. Can anything change or is this just a way of life that the Government has to accept for the rest of its term. That it will have open criticism from the backbench from a former PM?

Fifield

Well Peter we don't always agree with what you write but I think you’ve scribed a very good prescription for me and my colleagues.

PVO

Mitch Fifield we’re out of time. We’ll see if Barnaby Joyce gets through it with the same approach. We appreciate you joining us to talk about media reform in particular, thank you very much.

Fifield

Thanks very much.

[ENDS] 

 

Post a Comment

0 Comments

Log InYou must be logged in to post comments.
radioinfo ABN: 87 004 005 109  P O Box 6430 North Ryde NSW 2113 Australia.  T: 0413 790 666 02 9888 5705  |  All content © 2012. All Rights Reserved.