RN Drive with Raf Epstein > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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15-September-2017

RN Drive with Raf Epstein

Parliament House, Canberra

14 September 2017

6:40pm


E & OE

EPSTEIN:

The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t get too much credit for it, but he has landed two big fish this year.  The first was the education reforms, under Education Minister Simon Birmingham.  And today, just in the last hour, less than an hour ago.  The Communications Minister Mitch Fifield landed the media reform package, it changes drastically who can own what in this country.  And Senator Mitch Fifield joins us on the phone. Senator congratulations first of all.

FIFIELD:

Thanks Raf.

EPSTEIN:

The Labor Party are convinced this is a disaster for media diversity.  They have got a point don’t they?  If anybody can own whatever they like, there’s going to be fewer owners, fewer voices.

FIFIELD:

Well that’s not the case.  We still have important diversity protections.  We have something called the five/four rule, which means you have to have five independent media voices in metro areas, and four in the regions.

We have still got the one to a market TV rule, where you can only have one TV licence in a market.  And we still have the two to a market radio rule, which means you can only have two radio licences in the one market.

EPSTEIN:

Still means the Murdoch’s can buy a TV station, if they find one at the right price.

FIFIELD:

Well I’m someone who is proprietor agnostic.  What I am all about and what this package is all about is ensuring that we have good strong Australian media voices.  And if you free up, a little bit, the media control laws that were drafted in the 1980’s before the internet existed, you give the opportunity to Australian media companies to configure themselves in ways to best support their viability.

EPSTEIN:

I know you say you are media proprietor agnostic, you’d be totally happy if the Murdoch’s picked up more media in this country?

FIFIELD:

There is not a straight forward answer to a question like that Raf.

EPSTEIN:

Well if you’re agnostic you don’t attach value to who owns it.

FIFIELD:

Raf there are two things here.  One is we absolutely recognise the importance of diversity.  Which is why we still have those three diversity rules which I mentioned. We still have the ACCC’s competition ruler, which needs to be run over any proposition.  But what we wanted to do was free up a little bit the archaic media rules of the 1980s.

EPSTEIN:

And all the media companies wanted that?

FIFIELD:

Absolutely, because Australian media companies don’t want to go out backwards. They want to be viable, and if you have good strong viable Australian media companies, it means that they are in a much better position to employ journalists and to do the important work that they do.

EPSTEIN:

But there is now no law, and there is no regulator that would stop the Murdoch’s buying a TV station.  So if I could ask again.  Would you be happy if the Murdoch’s picked up another major media institution in this country?

FIFIELD:

Raf as I say, I am proprietor agnostic.  But there is not a simple answer to your question because every merger proposition has got to be looked at against those diversity rules, those remaining diversity rules that I mentioned.  But you have the interesting situation where every media organisation in the country is backing these changes.  Seven, Nine, Ten, Win, Prime, Southern Cross Austereo, Fairfax and News Limited. These guys aren’t often on the one page, but they are, because they recognise that this is a challenged industry.  You’ve got the Googles, you’ve got the Facebooks, you’ve got the online providers and we want to give them a fighting chance.  And this is what this package does.

EPSTEIN:

Can I ask a selfish question, let’s talk about the ABC.  The One Nation Party want a competitive neutrality review on this organisation.  The example I have been giving is the ABC right now purchases google result space.  You type in a news entry, you get the news page from the ABC promoted to the top of your search results.  Are you going to give them that review, who will do it?

FIFIELD: 

We haven’t yet worked out who will undertake that review.  But you’re right, we have announced that we will have, the quaintly termed competitive neutrality review. And that’s just a fancy way of saying that this is an opportunity to look at whether the ABC and SBS are using their status as Government entities in a way that isn’t appropriate when you talk about competition.

EPSTEIN:

Can you give me a definition of what wouldn’t be appropriate?

FIFIELD:

Look there’s a range of different things, and there are commercial organisations who have raised some concerns.  Now the ABC and SBS have their own perspectives on these matters. So what we are going to have is an inquiry where these things can be ventilated.

EPSTEIN:

Can you give me a value judgement on the search result, that precise example?  Is it inappropriate for the ABC to spend money on that?

FIFIELD:

I won’t give you a value judgement.   The ABC say it is appropriate. The commercial organisations say it is not.  So we are going to have an inquiry to address these and many other issues which are raised.  And we shouldn’t be shy about addressing these matters when they come forward.

EPSTEIN:

Oh I love talking about the ABC.  Is it the same as, right now, I’m stealing advertising dollars from every commercial radio station in the country, because there are people listening to this station, and not a commercial radio station.  Is that in any way of substance different to the ABC promoting ourselves on Google?

FIFIELD:

You have got a right as a broadcaster to promote your programs. I don’t think anyone would say that the ABC shouldn’t have an opportunity to do that.

EPSTEIN:

But I am actually stealing audience aren’t I.  I mean if we weren’t here there would be a greater audience, they could charge their advertisers more.  So is that, just the mere existence of the ABC radio stations around the country, there is a few of them, is that any different in substance to, for example, paying the Google search results?

FIFIELD:

Well the ABC is here.  It is going to stay here.  That is not going to change and that is not in scope.  What is in scope are the range of issues, I guess around the edges, that commercial broadcasters have raised.  They will have an opportunity to put their views forward, as will the public broadcasters.

EPSTEIN:

Just one more on the ABC. Can you actually force the ABC to reveal everyone’s salary?  Doesn’t that breach The Privacy Act?  I am not putting a valued judgement on it.  Would you not need to change The Privacy Act to force the ABC to reveal big time presenters wages.

FIFIELD:

We will be talking to the ABC about how they might do this and it could well require legislation.  But they’re things we will be exploring.

EPSTEIN:

Someone in your office has done the work.  You have got to change The Privacy Act don’t you?

FIFIELD:

Well Raf we will be exploring those. And a number of the ABC measures that we have announced will require legislation and we will be producing legislation in the future.

EPSTEIN:

Are we ever going to see the paperwork that justifies giving Fox Sports $30 million for women’s sport?  You are giving them taxpayer money so they can charge us to watch women’s sport.

FIFIELD:

Well there is paperwork.  When you have cabinet submissions in the context of the Budget of course there is paperwork that supports the consideration by the Government on those matters.

EPSTEIN:

Yes but we still have no idea why they were given the money.

FIFIELD:

Well Raf as I think we have discussed before, we wanted to ensure that women’s sport continued to have good exposure, good coverage, better coverage.  And in the context of our media reform package we thought that was something that was important. 

EPSTEIN:

Thanks for your time.

FIFIELD:

Good to talk Raf.

EPSTEIN:

Senator Mitch Fifield he is Malcolm Turnbull’s Communications Minister.  That is two big packages of reforms that Malcolm Turnbull has landed this year.

 [ends]