ABC Drive with Raf Epstein - 14 June 2017 - Network Ten and media reform > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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15-June-2017

RAF EPSTEIN:

Couldn’t resist the highlights and lowlights of Channel Ten, they’ve gone into voluntary administration today, and the Government says they are a walking billboard advertising the virtues of the changes to media ownership laws that they would like the Senate to approve.

Mitch Fifield joins us, the Minister for Communications, good afternoon.

FIFIELD:

G’day Raf.

EPSTEIN:

Before I get into Channel Ten Minister, your opponents see the settling of that Manus case as an admission of failure and as an admission of fault. What would you say to that?

FIFIELD:

Raf, the only reason that there were people in detention, people being processed was because the Labor Party systematically dismantled John Howard’s border protection arrangements.  That led to people putting themselves in harm’s way on the high seas.  Because of what Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have put in place,that no longer happens.

EPSTEIN:

So there’s no admission of culpability there?

FIFIELD:

We’ve effectively put the people smugglers out of business, so we’re not going to have this situation in the future.

EPSTEIN:

Do you think Channel Ten’s financial trouble will influence whether or not you’ll get your ownership changes through the Parliament?

FIFIELD:

Well I think Channel Ten is a good and practical case study. We’re not talking theory here.  We’re talking a real organisation.  And we’re talking real jobs. Paul Anderson, the chief executive of the Ten Network, for the best part of 18 months, has been saying media reform is required.  And specifically the abolition of the two out of three rule which really puts a constraint on a number of our media organisations, stops them from configuring themselves in ways that would support their business viability. So you don’t have to take my word for it.  You only need to take the word of the chief executive of the Ten Network.

EPSTEIN:

I think that’s a fairly persuasive argument, but my question, not sure you answered it, is that argument, are Channel Ten’s troubles going to persuade the crossbench because that two out of three rule, being able to own effectively a lot of the major media organisations in a city, you haven’t persuaded enough people yet, are they going to pay heed to Channel Ten?

FIFIELD:

Well, my argument has been consistent on the two out of three rule for the best part of 18 months.  That these are media laws that were written in the 1980’s, before the internet existed. That our media organisations are under unprecedented challenge.  And they need some options in terms of how they structure themselves and who they partner with.  To make sure that we continue to have strong Australian media voices.  And that’s the case I’m making to the crossbench.  And it’s also the case I’m making to the ALP.  And I think they’re getting let off the hook a bit. People focus on the crossbench. But it’s the Labor party who holds themselves out as the alternative government of the nation.  And they’ve shown, I’ve got to say, a callous disregard to the future of Australian media organisations and the people they employ.

EPSTEIN:

How serious is Channel Ten’s situation? Because quite a few people I’ve spoken to involved in Channel Ten say it’s not great but it’s also not the end of the world. It’s not as though the station’s about to drop off the air is it?

FIFIELD:

The administrators have made clear that they are going to be working closely with the management and staff and content providers of the Ten Network while they undertake business and financial assessments.  And as far as possible the administrators would like to see business as usual.

EPSTEIN:

Are the Murdochs, is News Corporation, the most likely buyer?

FIFIELD:

Well, I have a practice as the Minister for Communications of not speculating on what future ownership arrangements might be.

EPSTEIN:

That’s fair enough. That’s going to stop your argument winning over people.

FIFIELD:

Well, I’m proprietor agnostic, as you would expect the Communications Minister to be. The important thing is that we give options to media organisations as to how they can configure themselves. You’ll hear the Labor Party in particular and the Green’s talking a lot about their concerns, in terms of media diversity if the two out of three rule goes.  My greatest fear when it comes to media diversity is an Australian media organisation ceasing to be. That is really what threatens media diversity and Australian voices.  I want to see good, strong Australian media voices continuing.  And that is what our package is all about.

EPSTEIN:

There are a swag of fantastic journalists leaving Fairfax, it would take me too long to read out the names that we will no longer be reading in those newspapers.  Do you think that company is in trouble?

FIFIELD:

Well Fairfax is transacting its business. They are producing their papers and their online content.  I for one hope that continues.  But all Australian commercial media organisations are fighting for revenue.  Revenue is shifting to online platforms.  Many of our media organisations, particularly the free to air, radio and TV, are subject to licence fees, which their online competitors aren’t.  We are doing something about that.  We are abolishing licence fees and introducing a more modest spectrum charge. 

When it comes to the health of an individual media organisation, the best thing to do is to talk to that media organisation.  What I want to do, and what I want to focus on, are the things that we as a Parliament can do to help the viability of Australian media organisations.  And that is the comprehensive package that we have.  And it is no mean feat that we have the support of Nine, Seven, Ten, Win, Prime, Southern Cross Austereo, Fairfax, News Limited, Free TV, ASTRA and Commercial Radio Australia.  All say that this is a good package which should be supported as a whole.  That this will provide a shot in the arm for Australian media and give them a fighting chance.

EPSTEIN:

Mitch Fifield you are the Communications Minister, but I can’t resist, you’ve got energy policy to get through as a party.  Do you think people in your party realise that Alan Finkel’s plan is the way to ensure that old coal fired generators have a longer life, and their prices are lower.  Do you think people who are critical of the Prime Minister realise that?

FIFIELD:

Well the Finkel Plan is a report to Government.  It is not a report of the Government. It doesn’t represent policy.  It is an input into the Government’s policy development.  We have had a really good discussion in our party room about the Finkel Report.

EPSTEIN:

Good or rancorous?

FIFIELD:

Well I saw some of the reportage.  There is always a little bit of robustness around the edges of our party room meetings. 

EPSTEIN:

But it was not fine between two people apparently.

FIFIELD:

No, there was nothing in the party room that was out of the ordinary.  It is a robust forum.  Colleagues put their views.  But the good thing is, this is a process that everyone is involved in.

EPSTEIN:

I don’t know if you have had a chance to read the report, but do you agree with, I mean I’ve read it, coal has a bigger future under Alan Finkel’s plan and prices will be lower.  Do you agree with that conclusion?

FIFIELD:

Well we want to see base load power.  We want to see that we continue to have good sources of base load power.  We want to see an environment where electricity prices are reasonable.  We want to see security for power generation.  The work that Professor Finkel has undertaken is intended to provide a road map as to how that can be achieved.

EPSTEIN:

Thanks for your time.

FIFIELD:

Good to talk Raf.

[ENDS]