Sky Newsday with Laura Jayes > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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26-July-2018

Interview
Sky News Live, Newsday
26 July 2018

E & OE


JAYES:

Now let’s get back to our top story. Huge news in the media landscape today, that massive merger between Fairfax and Nine. The Communications Minister Mitch Fifield joins me now live from Melbourne. Looking at this deal today, you say that ACMA doesn’t see any immediate impediments. The ACCC will also look at competition. So, Mitch Fifield, is that a fait accompli?

FIFIELD:

Well this proposed merger is subject to the agreement of the relevant shareholders. It’s also subject to relevant regulatory approval. Now, the ACMA have indicated that they don’t see this being contrary to the media laws as amended, but the ACCC, with propositions such as this, always run the competition ruler over it and the ACCC have announced that they’re going to have a public process to do that. 

JAYES:

Is this the best example of what you intended when you changed media laws, or is this, you know, an unintended consequence?

FIFIELD:

Well, Laura, the odd situation we had before we passed our historic media reforms last year is that we had a regulatory environment for the Australian media that didn’t recognise that the internet existed. It put restrictions on traditional platforms of print, radio and TV, and saw online competitors unfettered. So, we had Australian media organisations who were at a competitive disadvantage. So what we did was we’ve created an environment where Australian media organisations have a wider range of options as to how they combine in order to support their viability to ensure that they survive. And this is what our media reforms are all about, is ensuring that we continue to have strong Australian media organisations that survive, that can continue to employ Australian journalists to report our news, and that can continue to create content which we hear in Australian voices. So that's what we're about, strengthening Australian media organisations.

JAYES:

This marks the two biggest- or two of the biggest and oldest media companies merging in Australia. Why is that good for competition?

FIFIELD:

Well, Australian media businesses are in the best position to determine what is in their own best interests, what will put them in the strongest position to survive. Now…

JAYES:

[Interrupts] But is this in the public’s best interests when it comes to competition in the media market?

FIFIELD:

Well I think the worst thing that could happen for competition and the worst thing that could happen for media diversity would be for an Australian media organisation to go out the door. We can pretend that this is still 1988 and that the internet doesn't exist, or we can recognise that we need to give our media organisations the opportunity to get scale, to combine, so that they're in a position to compete with the global online giants. But look sure, I absolutely take your point about the important…

JAYES:

[Talks over] So do you think Fairfax may have faded away out of the landscape if this merger was not allowed to go ahead?

FIFIELD:

Well, it’s for individual media organisations to talk to- you know, what their prospects are, but we want to give them the chance to survive. And Laura, you raise the point of media diversity, and that's important and that's why we have maintained the one-to-a-market rule so you can't have a crowd that has more than one TV licence in a licence area. The two-to-a-market rule that says you can't have a crowd that has more than two radio licences in a licence area. And the five-four rule, which says you should have five independent media voices in metro areas and four in the regions.

Plus, we also have that massive Commonwealth commitment to media diversity in the form of a $1.3 billion a year to the ABC and SBS. So we do still have important diversity protections. But the greatest threat to Australian media diversity, Australian news and Australian content, would be if an Australian media organisation failed. I don't want that to happen.

JAYES:

As you say the, the ACCC will look into this merger and see what results it might have for competition in the market. If that comes back with a negative light on the [audio skip] the ACCC says - we'll this merger actually reduces competition in the market. What can you do about it and what are you willing to do about it?

FIFIELD:

I'm not going to prejudge what the ACCC, as the independent competition body, might find. What we do as the government is we pass legislation to help create an environment that's good for Australian media organisations, that gives them more options in terms of who their dance partners are. You always have the competition ruler run over these things. But I think what's interesting to look at it in contrast is the position of the Australian Labor Party. They opposed our media reforms, but the Australian Labor Party don't have a media policy. From what I can tell, Australian Labor Party are quite happy…

JAYES:

[Talks over] Can I ask you, can I just quickly ask you about the ACCC- sorry. Minister Fifield, can I ask you about the ACCC once again, because like you've used the ACCC to look into the competitiveness of the energy market, the government is acting on those recommendations. If the ACCC report back on this merger and it finds that it is bad in a competitive sense for the media landscape, what can you do about it?

FIFIELD:

Well, all of these propositions are subject to the approval of the relevant regulatory authorities such as the ACCC and we allow the ACCC to do their work and we don't seek to pre-empt the work that they do.

JAYES:

Okay, but can you do anything about this merger if it turns out to be a bad thing for the media landscape?

FIFIELD:

Look, Laura, I’m not going to speculate on the work of the ACCC. That is a matter for them as the independent competition watchdog, so Rod Sims has announced that they’ll have an open and a public process so we’ll leave that to them.

JAYES:

Okay Mitch Fifield, you’ve been generous with your time today, thanks so much, appreciate it.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you Laura.

[ends]




Authorised by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Liberal Party of Australia, Parliament House, Canberra.