TRANSCRIPT - ABC Goulburn Murray > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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Senator The Hon Mitch Fifield

TRANSCRIPT - ABC Goulburn Murray

Mornings with Joseph Thomsen

28 October 2015
8.45 am

 

E & OE

 

Subjects: Media law, National Broadband Network.

                                                                      

 

THOMSEN:

 

Is the Federal Government about to change the existing TV rules which currently prevent any TV station from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the nation? That’s what the Save Our Voices regional TV campaign has been calling for. And perhaps it’s about to happen. As we have heard on ABC AM this morning the metro networks are about to start streaming their content via the net. Meaning that it’ll be accessible effectively to the entire country. Here’s a little of Liberal MP Angus Taylor on AM this morning, just summing all of that up.

 

TAYLOR:

 

The regional networks are getting close to being unviable businesses. Now I think it’s happening faster than most people had expected. The streaming of live content from the metropolitan stations into regional areas is just another example of how quickly this is unfolding.

 

THOMSEN:

 

Senator Mitch Fifield is the Federal Communications Minister and he’s in our region today, in the seat of Indi, Mitch Fifield, good morning.

 

FIFIELD:

 

Good morning Joseph.

 

THOMSEN:

Are you about to ditch the seventy five per cent reach rule?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well Joseph I think what is becoming increasingly clear is that technology and the way that consumers seek to access their media is bit by bit, rendering the existing media laws redundant. So eventually, they will have to change. And if they don’t change, ultimately consumers and technology will completely bypass them. So what I’ve been doing in the month or so that I’ve been the Minister, is meeting with all of the key stakeholders in the sector to see if we can reach a consensus. We mightn’t reach unanimity, but to see if we can reach a broad consensus and to reform media laws to reflect the world that we live in today.

 

 

 

 

THOMSEN:

 

How would scrapping the seventy five per cent reach rule help regional networks in markets like ours, and across regional Australia, to combat metropolitan networks streaming into regional markets? How would it help regional TV stations?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well a lot of the regional TV operators are saying that they want to have greater flexibility to configure themselves, to join with other operations so that they can get scale as an organisation. They feel that if they can get scale, they are then in a better position to compete, and they are in a better position to be able to maintain good, strong local content.

 

THOMSEN:

 

What does scale mean for the purposes of this conversation? Its fine to say to join and to get a better scale – does this mean mass mergers? Is that what it really means?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well, it could mean a range of things. There are regional providers who could wish to acquire metropolitan providers for instance. When you’ve got greater flexibility, in terms of media law, then you allow operators to be able to configure their operations in the way that they think can best put them on a sustainable footing.

 

THOMSEN:

 

What’s to stop the metropolitan networks simply swallowing up all regional TV networks if the seventy five per cent reach rule is scrapped?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well there are a number of media control rules in place. We shouldn’t forget, importantly, that there will always be the role of the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission. So they will always have a role in looking at merger issues, looking at to see if there is a substantial lessening of competition.

 

THOMSEN:

 

But if you scrap the seventy five per cent reach rule, what role would the ACCC have? I mean how could you transgress a rule like that if the rule’s gone?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well there’s a role for the ACCC. The ACCC looks to see if any particular activity leads to a significant lessening of competition. There are, as I say, there are also other media laws in place and what I want to do is see if we can reach a broad consensus in the area but one thing that is absolutely critical is to make sure that we maintain strong local content. Now we have protections for local content in licence conditions, but, in any changes that were made, it would be important to make sure that we did protect the local content that is currently there, and to acknowledge that a lot of providers at the moment have provided local content in excess of that which is required by the license conditions.

 

THOMSEN:

 

By local content we’re talking about local news bulletins? Becausese that’s the only local content I think that we can see at the moment that is created at a local level so is that what we’re talking about?

 

FIFIELD:

 

That’s what we are talking about – local news which is just so important for a community to be able to convey messages to itself, to also help reinforce a sense of community.

 

THOMSEN:

 

So if regional TV networks join up with metro TV networks, it’s on the proviso that you can’t scrap local news bulletins as a result. Is that what you are guaranteeing?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well we have license conditions which ensure that there is a minimum level of local content and there is no proposition to alter that and in any new media law environment, I think there will also be a strong desire to make sure that the local content that is currently there, which often exceeds the licence conditions, is also secured.

 

THOMSEN:

 

Mitch Fifield with us who is the Federal Communications Minister, as we ask the question, is the so-called seventy five per cent reach rule about to be scrapped, which is what the Save Our Voices regional campaign has been calling for. Mitch Fifield, let’s say you do scrap the seventy five per cent reach rule – what’s going to happen around the content? Won’t it still be a double up? Because metro stations are going to stream all of their content, regional TV stations may find a way to join up or words like scale up to where they want to scale to – aren’t they all still going to be providing the same content? How’s it going to help in the end? How’s it going to help regional stations be more viable as a result?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well, this is the argument that regional stations are putting to me and putting to the government, that they think reform in the area of media law would better enable them to run their businesses the way that they want to. And that means whether or not to join with other organisations…

 

THOMSEN:

 

That might be what they are saying to you but I’m asking how the content’s going to be doubled up either way isn’t it? It’ll be streamed by the metro TV networks and it will still be broadcast as usual by our regional TV networks. So how’s that really going to help anybody?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well I haven’t made any decisions. The government hasn’t made any decisions in relation to media law. We’re in a period of consultation, listening to all the players, as to what they think would put the television industry on a very secure footing. That’s what the businesses want. They want to be in the TV business. They want to be in a position where they can provide local news. And what we want to do as a government is look at the media laws as they are, and see if they are an inhibitor to the television industry being in a position where it can compete with the new technologies that are coming every day. The googles. There are many, many different sources of media now. And it’s ultimately consumers who are choosing how they want to access their media. So what we’re hearing from large cross sections of the television industry is that they want the freedom to compete, they want the freedom to show their wares. As I say we’ve made no decisions, but I think the technological advances and the way that consumers are seeking to access media means that it is appropriate that we take a look at the media laws and see if they really do reflect the world that we currently live in.

 

THOMSEN:

 

If they all merge though there will be a whole lot less competition won’t there?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well it’s important to have diversity. We all want diversity…

 

 

 

THOMSEN:

 

But I’m saying this could reduce diversity. If it just results in more mergers, it’ll just reduce in independent regional voices, and it’ll reduce overall diversity won’t it?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well what I was going to go on to say is that yes, we want diversity, but we also need to have viable media businesses to ensure that that diversity is provided.

 

THOMSEN:

 

I’ve got an SMS here it says, “it won’t make any difference to me I struggle to download basic emails, let alone stream anything, what a joke.”

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well that’s why we’re rolling out the National Broadband Network. And why we’re doing it on a basis that will see the NBN rolled out six to eight years sooner than what would have been the case if the all fibre approach had been taken. So we’ll do it six to eight years sooner than would otherwise have been the case and at twenty to thirty billion dollars less cost.

 

THOMSEN:

 

Just lastly Mitch Fifield, when do you think you will have made a decision on whether you are going to scrap the existing seventy five per cent reach rule?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well look there is a lot of interest in media law reform. I think that it’s important as an incoming minister to take a bit of time to consult with all the key players. We haven’t made a decision as government yet. But - look this isn’t something where the government wants to let the grass grow.

 

THOMSEN:

 

Do you think you’ll have a decision before the end of this year?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well, I never want to pre judge what my Cabinet colleagues and party room colleagues will think. It’s important to talk to them as well about any possible changes.

 

THOMSEN:

 

Alright, Mitch Fifield, enjoy your time in our region, thanks for speaking to us this morning.

 

FIFIELD:

 

Thanks Joseph.

           

 

Media contact:

Justine Sywak | 0448 448 487 | Justine.Sywak@communications.gov.au