Money News with Ross Greenwood (Steve Price) > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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15-September-2017

Money News with Ross Greenwood (Steve Price)

2GB
14 September 2017

7:05pm

 E & OE

STEVE PRICE:

Lots happening in Canberra, the Parliament is up for another break they got through within the last hour or so the Media Reforms. I’ll talk with Harold Mitchell about that later this hour. Ross’ regular on a Thursday night but the Minister who’s been in the middle of these negotiations responsible for getting the 31 27 bill to pass the House of Reps and then the Senate is Senator Mitch Fifield, the Minister for Communications. 

Minister, thanks for your time. 

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you Steve.

PRICE:

Little confusion that we can fix up from the top, the ABC deal which One Nation negotiated with you and that’s to make sure the ABC remains within its charter, is balanced and fair and this disclosure of ABC presenters salaries which I’m not really interested in. That’s now missing from this Bill and is described as a side deal. Why is that?

FIFIELD:

Well our agreement with One Nation was that after the passage of the Media Reform legislation we would introduce a separate Bill which contained those ABC measures which we had agreed with One Nation. And they covered things such as putting the words "fair and balanced" in the ABC Act. Making specific reference to rural and regional Australia in the ABC charter. Something which most people would assume was there. So it was always the intention that would come later. 

PRICE:

Has One Nation fallen for that? Because presumably Nick Xenophon saying today that he wouldn’t support that. One Nation supported the broader Bill, what’s the chance of getting that ABC separate Bill through and why would you need to separate it? 

FIFIELD:

There were predictions over and over again that I wouldn’t be successful in getting this Media Reform package through the Senate. Yet, that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’re now hearing those same predictions about our future ABC legislation. And I will apply the same effort to that which I’ve applied to this Media Reform package. 

PRICE:

So if the ABC clauses… sorry to interrupt, were in the existing Bill that went through 31/27 tonight, you think that would have failed because Xenophon’s team would not have supported it. 

FIFIELD:

There needs to be time for Senate colleagues to look in detail at the ABC propositions we put forward. Now some of them I think people are taking the wrong way. Take the issue of "fair and balanced". Fair and balanced is not something to be afraid of and,in fact, if you look at the ABC’s existing editorial guidelines in chapter four it talks about "fair treatment" and the need to follow the weight of evidence in relation to balance. So that’s already there in the ABC’s own editorial guidelines. 

PRICE:

They don’t follow it? 

FIFIELD:

Well, given it’s there, there should not be an issue with enshrining it within the ABC’s legislation. But also with "fair and balanced" the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance Journalistic Code of Ethics makes reference to "fairness" on no less than six occasions. So these aren’t radical or new concepts to journalism and people should be very comfortable about them being in the ABC’s Act. 

PRICE:

I think it’s important, but it is largely a side show. Let’s get on to the more substantive part of what you’ve done here. I was in the middle of the ’87 changes that Keating got through the Parliament and they changed the landscape of Australian media. Herald and Weekly Times was broken up, it was a TV, radio and newspaper company. It was massive, Rupert Murdoch carved the papers out of it. So these changes will mean changes in the media landscape. Are you convinced they’ll be changes for the better? 

FIFIELD:

What this is about is giving Australian media organisations a bit more freedom in terms of their dance partners. Who it is that they can configure with, to help support their viability. We’re still going to have some important diversity protections. There are still three media ownership rules in place. But we needed to free things up. And that’s what every media organisation in the country has called for. So if we’ve got stronger more viable media organisations that means they’re in a better position to employ people and to employ journalists. 

PRICE:

Labor and the Greens say it will lead to more concentration. It’s hard to see that it won’t. I mean Fairfax are a majority shareholder of this radio network and clearly they publish the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age, and the markets where we’re on air. If there was a merger, or a reverse takeover, or however it happened between Fairfax and say a TV network that would condense ownership wouldn’t it? 

FIFIELD:

Look certainly there could be consolidation. But if that’s the difference between a media organisation going out backwards, or surviving, thriving and being stronger, then I think that’s a good thing. We’ve also got to recognise that we have never had a wider range of sources from which to consume our media and to choose our news. So we don’t need to be concerned about diversity as we were back in the 1980s when you only had print, radio and TV and if you had serious concentration of ownership there could have been a lack of diversity. But this is a different world. 

PRICE:

Will this have an impact do you believe on the Channel Ten ownership struggle? 

FIFIELD:

I don’t know. And I am someone who is absolutely proprietor agnostic. We set the rules, then it’s up to the market to determine, in accordance with the remaining diversity rules that we have, what is in the best interest of particular organisations. 

PRICE:

If this had gone through earlier though, it’d be pretty clear that the CBS deal wouldn’t be on the table, but as you said that’s not your problem. 

Did you give Nick Xenophon too much to get this deal over the line? I mean $60 million is a large amount of taxpayers’ money. It’s described as it’s going to support small publishers, journalism scholarships and subsidise journalism cadetships largely targeted at smaller companies in rural Australia. 

Do those companies even really exist? 

FIFIELD:

They do, they do. There are something of the order of 70 odd independent regional newspapers. There are a range of small publications in both Metro and small country areas. And $60 million. That is real money. But when you compare that to the billion dollars plus that the ABC gets each year, it’s a relatively modest amount. And it’s a recognition, particularly in regional areas, that a lot of newspapers are in a period of transition. So we’re happy to support something that will assist those businesses to re-engineer their businesses for the new world that they’re in. 

PRICE: 

Nick Xenophon hasn’t been too cute by half by shoring up his support from his ethnic base in South Australia? Has he? Because Senator one of my callers earlier pointed out that the ethnic media particularly Greek and Italians, very strong in my old state of South Australia and they’d be very happy with the deal that their Senator got them. 

FIFIELD:

Look if there are ethnic media organisations who are beneficiaries of this, they make an application and are successful, that’s no bad thing. 

PRICE: 

Appreciate your time tonight, thank you very much. You must be very pleased to get that through. 

FIFIELD:

Pleased for Australian media organisations. Like you Steve, I want to see good, strong Australian media voices. 

PRICE: 

Good on you. Senator Mitch Fifield there, Minister for Communications. 

[ends]