TRANSCRIPT - Sky News PM Agenda > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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Senator The Hon Mitch Fifield

TRANSCRIPT - Sky News PM Agenda

with David Speers


1 March 2016

4.30pm

 

Subject: Media Reform

 

E & OE

JOURNALIST:

As we’ve been discussing, the government today unveiled its long awaited media reforms. These have the potential to reshape the industry’s landscape. The Government’s moved on two fronts, the so-called ‘reach rule’ will go, and that will allow mergers between metropolitan and regional TV networks so they can reach 100% of the national audience. Channel 9 or Channel 7 could merge, for example, with WIN or Prime.

It’s also moving on the so-called ‘two out of three’ rule, and that will allow, once this rule is gone if its passed through the Parliament, one media owner to own television, radio, and print in the one market. Currently they’re restricted from owning more than two out of three. This would for example, Fairfax which owns print and radio to merge with Channel 9. It would allow Network 10, for example, and News Corp, or News Corp to own a larger slice of Network 10. With me now is the communications minister Mitch Fifield. Thank you for joining me this afternoon. What is the main reason for these changes?

FIFIELD:

Well the media laws that we have in place have been there for more than a decade. They were designed in an analogue world for an analogue world. They just simply don’t reflect the current media environment. And bit by bit through technology and the choices that consumers are exercising as a result of technology and how they consume their media, those laws are being rendered redundant. Something like the 75% ‘reach rule’ is meaningless because some of the free to airs are streaming. That means they’ve got 100% reach. So what, increasingly, these existing media laws are also doing is acting as a restraint on media organisations configuring themselves in the way that best suits them, and also that can better serve consumers.

JOURNALIST:

If 9 or 7, for example, do buy Win or Prime, can you give a guarantee that regional news services won’t diminish?

FIFIELD:

That’s a very important consideration. Whenever you talk about media reform, people who live in the regions, understandably, say ‘what about us’? They’ve got a legitimate interest in making sure there’s good local content. Now at the moment there are minimum local content requirements in what are known as the aggregated regional media markets. What we’re proposing is if there are reconfigurations, changes in ownership, mergers that would see more than 75% audience-reach through a group of licences, we’re going to deem that to be a trigger. And six months after that trigger, we would put in place higher local content requirements. So going from 720 points per six week period, it would go to 900 points.

JOURNALIST:

And that goes to how much content they have?

FIFIELD:

That’s right.

JOURNALIST:

And the ‘two out of three’ rule, so this would allow, as I explained in the introduction there, a Fairfax-Channel 9 merger, it would allow a News Corp-Channel 10 merger?

FIFIELD:

Well it wouldn’t prevent that from happening. But also there remains in place the ACCC requirements, things of that nature. So it would be an impediment that is removed. I’m someone that is essentially ownership-agnostic. Let media organisations configure themselves in the way that’s best for their business and puts them, certainly in the case for regional areas, in a good position to provide local content.

JOURNALIST:

Let the free market rule?

FIFIELD:

Well, let businesses take the decisions that businesses need to take to make sure that they’re good, strong viable businesses that can employ people. The prerequisite for diversity is to have good strong media companies – that’s the number one prerequisite for diversity. Now we have that to an extent as a result of new media entrants who people can access online, but we want to see Australian media companies do well.


JOURNALIST:

Let businesses do what businesses do well, let the market operate; you are however keeping protections in place on the anti-siphoning list around the sports that must be shown, or at least certainly available to free to airs only. No changes at all to that? Why not?

FIFIELD:

Well we’re not bringing forward anti-siphoning as part of this package. We’re also not proposing as part of this package that what’s known as the ‘5 out of 4’ rule goes, which ensures 5 media voices in metro areas, and 4 in regional areas. We’re not touching the ‘one to a market’ rule in terms of one TV licence per market. And we’re not touching the ‘two to a market’ rule in terms of two radio licences per market.

JOURNALIST:

But on anti-siphoning, why do you want to keep those protections specifically in place for free to airs?

FIFIELD:

Well there are a number of misconceptions about anti-siphoning. And you might’ve heard me talk about some of those earlier today. Which include things like: the anti-siphoning list doesn’t mandate free to airs have got to take the events on the list, it doesn’t mean that if they do take them they have got to run them, and it doesn’t mean that if they do take them, they can’t on-sell them to a subscription organisations.

JOURNALIST:

What’s the point of keeping the list untouched though if, for example, the free to airs aren’t showing half, or more than half of the football matches in any round?

FIFIELD:

And look, where events aren’t shown, they’re often taken up by subscription TV. In relation to anti-siphoning, I think as with all media laws, these things are under constant review. There have been events that have come on to the anti-siphoning list over the years, and some events that have come off. But I think if there was to be any significant change to the anti-siphoning list, there would need to be good community understanding of how the list operates; what it does do, what it doesn’t do. And there would need to be broad parliamentary support for change. And I don’t think those circumstances are there.

JOURNALIST:

It’s too hard at the moment?

 

FIFIELD:

I don’t think those circumstances are there.

JOURNALIST:

The licence fees: you are considering – these are the licence fees to the free to air networks – you are considering scrapping those altogether?

FIFIELD:

We’ve made clear publicly, and my predecessor in this role did, that we would be examining licence fees in the context of this Budget. These licence fees were introduced for commercial TV and radio in the late 1950s when commercial TV and radio essentially had a monopoly on electronic media communication because there was no other form. So it was introduced, in effect, as a ‘super profits tax’ at that time. Now circumstances are different. There’s great competition. There’s a challenging environment. So I understand very well the arguments of the free to airs, TV and radio.

JOURNALIST:

But from the government’s perspective you’re trying to scratch together every dollar you can to tackle bracket creep and things like that, is now the time to be giving the networks, what is it, $150 odd-million?

FIFIELD:

It’s about $175 million when you include radio licence fees as well. You’re right it is a tough budget environment. We’ve said that we would examine the issue of licence fees. Now nothing should be read into that, one way or the other, as to what might be in the budget. But we’ve said we’d look at it and we will.


[ends]