Fischer goes into bat for regional media

The Land | Jessie Davies | 10 September 2015

RENOWNED headwear enthusiast and former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer is trying on a new hat: championing the relaxation of competition laws which are choking regional media outlets.

Mr Fischer, a National Party stalwart who served under John Howard from 1996 to 1999, said reform of The Broadcasting Services Act was needed.

The Act contains two rules which he said were crippling privately owned television and radio networks including Prime, Win, Southern Cross Austereo and Imparja Television.

The first rule, the "reach rule", prohibits television licence holders from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the population.

The second rule, the two-out-of-three rule, stops a media company from controlling more than two of a radio station, free-to-air TV station and newspaper.

"These rules are like barbed wire fences. They were created last century and that's where they should have stayed," Mr Fischer said.

"They were designed to protect local media in a world without the internet, smartphones, tablets or streaming."

Mr Fischer likened the impact of the laws to farming using "just three quarters of your property with two thirds the horsepower".

"The costs of business these days means regional media companies can't compete with the media giants who have a national reach because of their digital media outlets," he said.

He said regional media built "economic momentum" in communities and warned of job losses from media outlets if the laws remained.

"Local voices are so important this time of the year when the agricultural field day circuit is in full-swing and the spring shows are kicking off," he said.

"The success of these events would be greatly diminished if their stories and promotion were coming from Sydney."

In June, Prime Minister Tony Abbott put on hold reforms proposed by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull that would have abolished the reforms, but Mr Fischer is confident he has the support necessary to get the issue back on the table.

"Government has to be persuaded and we have a big job ahead of us but there is movement in the camp," he said.

"I know there are many supporters of the cause, including front benchers on both sides of politics."

The Nine Network and Fairfax Media have backed the reforms, but Seven West Media and News Corp oppose changing the laws.

Mr Abbott has indicated he is unlikely to support change unless there is consensus in the industry, which Mr Fischer considered an unlikely prospect.

Mr Fischer, who these days farms cattle in North Eastern Victoria, is the face of the Save The Voice campaign, a movement launched this week by a group of independent broadcasters.

In lieu of payment for his public appearances Mr Fischer is collecting donations for The Country Education Foundation and the Sir John Monash Foundation.

"I'm not here as a paid lobbyist but rather as a constructive citizen of Australia," he said.

"I've seen how powerful local voices have been to building a more balanced Australia and I remain of that view."

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