AM with Sabra Lane > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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15-September-2017

 

AM with Sabra Lane

ABC Studio Canberra
15 September 2017

8:05am

 

E & OE

Subject: media reform

SABRA LANE:

The Communications and Arts Minister Mitch Fifield, good morning Senator and welcome to the program.

FIFIELD:

Good morning Sabra.

LANE:

You have achieved something that many media proprietors have wanted for decades.  Did you crack champagne last night?

FIFIELD:

No I didn't. I am just very pleased that it was a good day for jobs and a good day for Australian media. Our media organisations are under great challenge. They need a shot in the arm. They need a fighting chance. What this package does is gives them the opportunity to compete with the new competition. And what I want to see are good, strong Australian media voices and people employed.

LANE:

12 months from now, what do you think the media landscape is going to look like in Australia?

FIFIELD:

That will be a matter for Australian media organisations. We have given them a little more flexibility in terms of how they configure their businesses. We've given them the opportunity to have a wider range of dance partners. We've provided tax relief for TV and radio broadcasters. And we've got an important community dividend in the form of further restrictions on gambling advertising. So, this is good for consumers, because we want them to hear Australian journalists and we want them to hear Australian stories. We want the media to be in a position where they can hold people like governments to account. So, this is good for consumers, good for the industry, and good for employment.

LANE:

By talking about more dance partners, you are alluding to the fact that it will probably spark a wave of acquisitions and mergers?

FIFIELD:

Well, again, it's up to Australian media businesses to configure themselves in the way that will best support their viability. People have spoken about potential threats to diversity through changing media law. But the greatest threat to diversity is the failure of an Australian media organisation. We don't want that to happen. What we've done is to put them on a more viable footing.

LANE:

Rupert Murdoch might buy Channel Seven or Nine as a result of this, meaning a further concentration of ownership. Some critics believe that is not a good thing. What do you think?

FIFIELD:

Well, I'm proprietor agnostic. We still have important diversity protections that are in law. What we have done is to create a little more flexibility for Australian media organisations. And Sabra, I do want to take the opportunity to acknowledge my crossbench colleagues for the support they have given to me and my Coalition colleagues. But it is important we call out the Australian Labor Party, who opposed this package at every turn. They are still living in the 1980s.

LANE:

Let's talk about some of the changes that you achieved with, negotiating with Nick Xenophon. You have committed to a $60 million special fund that regional media players can access to hire journalists and train them. What happens when the fund is depleted after the third year?

FIFIELD:

Well, this is a one-off program to assist particularly regional media organisations. Now, all media of longstanding is under challenge. But I think regional newspapers, in particular, have really had a difficult time. This matters, because once upon a time you would have a local regional journalist at every local council meeting. Things like that are good and positive for democracy. So, this fund is intended to help them make that transition to the new media environment.

LANE:

When the money runs out in three years what happens?

FIFIELD:

We have the media package as a whole, which is to benefit the whole industry. This is essentially a business improvement fund to help these media organisations, particularly in regional areas, make a transition to new business models.

LANE:

That point about regional areas, my old home town of Mildura is a very good example, we used to have a local TV news service and it shut down two years ago. Will these changes mean a regeneration of that kind of news outlet in the bush?

FIFIELD:

I hope that the media package will put our media organisations in a position where they are better placed to employ journalists.

LANE:

You hope, but you're not...

FIFIELD:

I don't control Australian media organisations. What government can do is help to create an environment where they are in a better position to be good, strong viable media organisations. If we did nothing, if we didn't put this package through, I can guarantee the situation would be worse for Australian media.

LANE:

A lot of young people don’t get their news from traditional news sources which is something that the traditional media are grappling with, they get it from Google from Facebook.  You’re going to ask the Australian competition watch dog now the ACCC to look at the impact of these giants on the local outlets here.  If it finds that they are having a detrimental impact what will you do?

FIFIELD:

Well we will have to wait and see what the ACCC finds.  There are really three areas that you can look at when you are talking about the Facebooks and the Googles.  You can look at taxation law to see that people are paying their fair share. And Scott Morrison has done some good work there, particularly with the diverted profits tax.  You can look at copyright law. And we are doing that, we’ve got a process that we are going through.  But competition law is also important and that is what this ACCC review is about.

LANE:

So maybe, potentially a super tax on them funding journalism.

FIFIELD:

Well, as I say, we have already taken action on the tax front. We have a process on the copyright front.  And now we are looking at the market environment through the ACCC enquiry.

LANE:

How worried are you by the spread of unchecked fake news?

FIFIELD:

No one likes to see journalism that isn’t fact based.  No one likes to see journalism that is misleading.  What we want to have are good and credible media organisation.  We have a lot of them in Australia and I want to see those media organisations prosper.

LANE:

The changes that One Nation wants regarding the ABC will be put in a separate bill.  Now what chance does that have of actually passing through?

FIFIELD:

Well people said that we would never get this media reform package through the Parliament. And we did.  People said we would never get education reform through the Parliament. Yet we have.  People said that we would never re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Yet we have.  People said we would never establish a Registered Organisations Commission. Yet we have.  People said we would never get child care reform through the Parliament. Yet we have.  People said we would never get the Omnibus Savings Bill through the Parliament. Yet we have.  

And so the more people say something can’t be done the more determined I and my colleagues are to deliver.

LANE:

Mitch Fifield thank you very much for talking to AM this morning.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you.

 [ends]