Steve Price 2GB - 14 June 2017 - 7pm - Network Ten and media reform > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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15-June-2017

E & OE
Subject: Network Ten and media reform

STEVE PRICE:

As I said earlier in the program the future of Network 10 is in the balance tonight.  I actually was on air on Channel 10 this morning, I have agreed for a couple of weeks, or for at least two Wednesdays to sit in on Studio Ten for them.  And the CEO Paul Anderson spoke to the staff after that, and we now know that they have gone into voluntary receivership.

The Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, who is trying to convince a hostile Senate to pass the Government’s changes to media reforms is on the line.  Senator thanks for your time again tonight.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you Steve.

PRICE:

The One Nation Senators have been the blocking point at this stage so far.  I know you’ve been working very hard to convince them otherwise.  Have you turned a couple of them do you think?

FIFIELD:

Well One Nation are continuing to have constructive discussions with me.  I do need to acknowledge that, unlike the Labor Party, the crossbench has been happy to continue discussions.  Happy to look at good propositions.  And we’ve had some very good results in this Senate with the crossbench.  Absolutely talking to the crossbench, but I don’t want to let the Australian Labor Party off the hook, Steve.  They present themselves as the alternative government of the nation.  Yet they are stuck in the 1980’s.  They are playing games.  They are always working the political angles.  The furthest thing from their mind is the health of Australian media organisations and the jobs of the people they employ.

PRICE:

I should point out that none of my previous bosses told me this before I use this anecdote, so let me just get that clear.  There was a meeting as you know, you hosted it, in Canberra last week, or the week before last of all the major media executives.  They came down to talk to various politicians.  My understanding is that Bill Shorten attended a meeting of those media executives and just basically, Senator, just sat there shaking his head and said we are not interested.

FIFIELD:

It’s extraordinary.  Australian media is one of the important underpinnings of our democracy.  We might not always like what is broadcast or streamed or printed or blogged or posted, but it’s fundamental to the health of our democracy.  We need strong Australian media voices.  That’s what our package of reforms is all about.  To give a shot in the arm to the industry.  And to give Australian media a fighting chance against their global competitors.  But the Australian Labor Party simply aren’t interested. 

And Steve something that I found extraordinary watching an interview with Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Minister for Communications, on Sky.  Kieran Gilbert said to her “ given every major media organisation in the country supports this, shouldn’t you seriously look at it?”  And her response was, “well Kieran, the only reason these media organisations are supporting the package is because there is something for all of them in it.” I mean, that’s the point. 

PRICE:

I mean I am old enough to remember the Keating Government reforms of ’87. And I am sure you’ve done your history and looked back to when that happened.  I mean he was determined to ram through media reform and it happened.  But those laws were written in pre internet days.  I mean I didn’t even have a mobile phone back in 1987.  We’ve seriously, as a nation, got to realise the world has changed and moved on.  I mean what more does any opponents of these changes need to know, other than Fairfax is sacking journalists and its newspapers have really basically become irrelevant.  They are now a digital business with a real estate business tacked on to it.  You’ve got the News Limited papers are healthy because basically they have a global company behind them.  Radio seems to be going okay, but here we have the third free to air TV network basically in voluntary receivership.

FIFIELD:

That’s right.  And you have got the Australian Labor Party who are indulging in these delightful philosophical debates about diversity and protecting it.  But the greatest threat to Australian media diversity is the failure of a significant media company, and that’s what we want to stop.

PRICE:

So you’ve said to day with the voluntary administration at Ten that is a reason for Senators to change their views on this.  Are you going to use that as a way to convince more of them changing their minds?  I mean I can’t see Channel Ten shutting down, but it is a possibility.

FIFIELD:

Well this is a practical, real life case study.  This isn’t theory.  And Paul Anderson the CEO of the Ten Network has been saying for 18 months that we need media reform.  That we need the abolition of some of the outdated media control laws.  Paul Anderson wants options.  The Ten Network wants options.  And what our package seeks to do it to give them options and remove some of the shackles.

PRICE:

If this bill were to get through and you manage to convince the Senators who are opposing it to support it and it became law.  Would you be happy for Channel Ten to be purchased by an existing media owner who owned either a radio network or a television network?

FIFIELD:

Well the removal of the two-out-of-three rule would allow an entity to own radio, print and TV in the one market.  And if businesses decided that was the best thing for their viability, then that would happen.

But there will still be important protections for diversity.  We are still only going to allow an outfit to have one TV licence in a market.  We are still only going to allow an outfit to have two radio licenses in a market.  And there is this wonderfully titled law called the five-four rule or the voices rule which says there have got to be five independent voices in metropolitan areas and four in the regions.

So we don’t have to worry about diversity.  We’ve got those protections.  We’ve also got the ACCC competition ruler still to run across things.  But getting rid of the two-out-of-three rule and the 75% audience reach rule, will give more flexibility to media businesses.  It will give them the option of more dance partners.

PRICE:

I will be on air later tonight with my mate Andrew Bolt, one of your favourite people.  He would want me to ask you, these laws are aimed at legislating for commercial media operators.  Are you going to at all look at reining in the ABC?  Because you are limiting commercial operators like say Fairfax, it is a perfect example where they clearly aim their audiences similar to the ABC.  ABC is allowed to have numerous radio stations, numerous TV signals, numerous publications.  So they have all three print, radio television.  With the taxpayer bankrolling it.  Haven’t we let the ABC get too big and it’s actually so big that it is causing grief for commercial operators.

FIFIELD:

You raise a good point Steve.  Those who express the greatest concern about media diversity.  Those who express the greatest concern about too much concentration in terms of ownership, tend to overlook the concentration that is the public broadcaster.

PRICE:

Have you got any intention of making changes in the area?

FIFIELD:

Well the ABC, as you know Steve, has operational independence.  And the Parliament has established the ABC on the basis that we have.  I don’t think there would be serious prospects of changing the current structure.

PRICE:

We talked to some media experts earlier in the show about the issue of what is going to happen now to Ten.  The news is that Bruce Gordon and Lachlan Murdoch might form a joint venture to restructure it.  Do you want Ten to survive?

FIFIELD:

Absolutely. Ten is a good organisation.  It is a good business.  It has got good staff.

PRICE:

Well it was good to you when you were on The Project.

FIFIELD:

Well it’s a good show.  And you are always fair and balanced, Steve.  But I don’t want to see Australian media organisations fail.  I want them to survive and to prosper.  And the package that we are putting forward is aimed at giving them the shot in the arm and giving our media a fighting chance.

PRICE:

And they have got to be able to compete on an equal footing with the streaming services, with the Googles of this world.  It’s just not a level playing field is it?

FIFIELD:

Well these organisations are subject to restrictions which their online competitors aren’t.  The media ownership restrictions are part of that.  The high licence fees that free to air TV currently pay are part of that and we are significantly reducing those in the package.  So we have some good and practical things to do to support Australian media. 

PRICE:

You have tonight and tomorrow and then you have the winter break of Parliament.  Any chance of getting this through before you go away for winter?

FIIELD:

Well we have still got next sitting week as well.  So we have got a bit of time.  But I am urging my Senate colleagues to look at the practical example of the Ten Network.  This is a moment to take stock and simply to do those practical things that are in our media package to support our media to make sure we have good strong Australian media voices.

PRICE:

Minister good to catch up.

FIFIELD:

Good to chat Steve.

[ends]