TRANSCRIPT - 2GB with Ross Greenwood > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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Senator The Hon Mitch Fifield

TRANSCRIPT - 2GB with Ross Greenwood

1 March 2016

7:05pm

 

Subject: Media Reform

 

E & OE

JOURNALIST:

The Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has just stepped out of the Senate chamber to have a chat to us about the change in the media ownership laws that have been put in place today. They’re going to enter the Parliament in the next week or so, and the Government will seek to get them through as quickly as possible.

These have not been changed for a long, long time and it’s basically allowing a single media owner to now be able to own different forms of media in one particular region. The Communications Minister Mitch Fifield is on the line right now, many thanks for your time Senator.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you, Ross.

JOURNALIST:

So can you broadly explain why it is these rules needed to be changed?

FIFIELD:

Well, the media laws that we have at the moment were really crafted in – and for – an analogue world. They simply don’t reflect the changes in technology. They don’t reflect the change in consumer choice.

Technology means that consumers have so many new avenues of media, so many new avenues of news. Also, these rules, as well as not reflecting that, are increasingly constraining media organisations from being able to configure themselves in the way that best suits their business and best suits their consumers.

Just to give you one example, the 75% audience ‘reach rule’ which prohibits a group of TV licences being controlled by an individual having more than 75% of the Australian audience. That’s completely meaningless now because we have a number of free to air TV networks who are streaming – which means that they have 100% reach. So that rule just doesn’t make sense today.

JOURNALIST:

Okay now let’s just go to the big players in this market – we’re talking here Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Stokes, they didn’t want these changes. They were very adamant they did not want and need these changes at this stage. Is the Government really, almost biting the hand that sort of can help to feed them in some ways, by defying the wishes of such powerful media tycoons?

FIFIELD:

Well Ross I think it’d be fair to say that there are varying degrees of enthusiasm amongst the different media organisations for the changes that we’re proposing. What is common amongst media organisations I think is a recognition that the media rules are increasingly becoming redundant and don’t reflect the world that we live in. Where media organisations have different views – there are some who think this is a good start, there are others who think that this really doesn’t go far enough.

So what we’re putting forward are the abolition of the 75% ‘reach rule’, the abolition of the ‘2 out of 3 rule’ which prevents an individual or group having more than two out of three of the regulated platforms.

JOURNALIST:

So, just to pick you up here, that technically would mean that, say, News Corporation could go and buy channel 10 tomorrow if it wanted to? Once passed through the Parliament of course?

FIFIELD:

That impediment would be removed. Obviously there’s still the ACCC hoops to go through.

JOURNALIST:

So Nine could go out and buy Southern Cross or buy WIN, which has always been mooted around the place, it could even be that Fairfax and Nine get together? So all these types of mergers could certainly come as a result of the changes that being proposed today?

FIFIELD:

There could be a range of different combinations. Even some that we haven’t thought of. But we’ve put forward ‘2 out of 3’. We’ve put forward ‘reach’. Because we think that these are changes which can enjoy the support of the Parliament.

JOURNALIST:

OK where does the likes of Google Netflix, all these types of organisations, where do they fit in all of this? Because they seem to have almost fallen through the cracks of some of the communication/media ownership laws in the past?

FIFIELD:

Well these over-the-top providers, as they’re sometimes termed, aren’t subject to any of these media laws which is part of what is rendering them increasingly meaningless.

So what we’ve announced today is significant reform. That’s not to say that there will not be further reform. I think in the world that we live in, media laws need to be under constant review.

But I should point out that understandably in regional areas where you’re talking about potential mergers and changes in media law, country people can be a bit nervous asking, “What about our local news content?”

JOURNALIST:

That’s the thing, isn’t it?

FIFIELD:

That’s right. And we’ve got some new and higher protections for local news content, should there be what we call a ‘trigger event’, occasioned by a reconfiguration of those markets.

JOURNALIST:

Just explain mechanically how this is going to work – I understand the Bill is going to be put into the House of Reps on Wednesday this week, what happens to it after that?

FIFIELD:

Well I will also refer the legislation to the Senate Communications and Environment Committee for inquiry.

JOURNALIST:

How long will that take?

FIFIELD:

We don’t have many sitting weeks before the Budget, so it’ll probably be about a five or six week inquiry. Then through that time the legislation will have gone through the House of Representatives and we’ll have the opportunity to consider it in the Senate.

JOURNALIST:

So will it actually get through the Parliament before that double dissolution date of July 2?

FIFIELD:

Well I don’t know Ross when the election will be, but I am aiming to have the legislation through the Parliament before the scheduled election.

JOURNALIST:

Did you see what I did there Mitch?

FIFIELD:

I did. I didn’t fall for it Ross. It’s easy not to when you don’t know when the election actually will be.

[ends]