MP's, broadcasters call for urgent change to media ownership laws

Sydney Morning Herald | Matthew Knott | 28 September 2015

Liberal MPs and regional broadcasters have called on the Turnbull government to urgently scrap media ownership laws after new Communications Minister Mitch Fifield put the issue back on the political agenda.

Senator Fifield, who has replaced Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the role, said current media ownership laws were outdated in the digital age and would inevitably change. The government would seek only a broad consensus within the media sector for change rather than unanimity, he said.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott had blocked Mr Turnbull's push to abolish the "reach rule" and the "two out of three rule". The "reach rule" permits television broadcasters to broadcast to only 75 per cent of the population, while the "two out of three rule" restricts proprietors from controlling television, radio and newspaper assets in the same market.

Prime Media chairman John Hartigan said: "I hope the government will get on with it and wipe both of them."

Mr Hartigan said Mr Abbott was too influenced by lobbying against change by Seven West Media's Kerry Stokes and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

"The previous PM had a fix in to block change with two media proprietors," he said. "To have a minister who understands the need for reform is very refreshing."

Prime Media — along with WIN Television, Southern Cross Austereo and Imparja Television — has argued the current laws will make it difficult for broadcasters to provide local news services in the future.

Nationals leader Warren Truss recently questioned the need for media ownership reform, suggesting Mr Turnbull and Mr Fifield would have to convince some cabinet colleagues of the need for change.

West Australian senator Dean Smith, chairman of the Coalition's backbench communications committee, said: "Regional media reform is the most pressing and urgent issue in the communications portfolio.

"Regional media consumers would be best served if one of the first actions of the Turnbull government is to abolish the reach rule."

Senator Smith said many regional MPs did not want the ABC to be the only media voice in their community.

The Liberal member for Hume in NSW, Angus Taylor, said relaxations to media ownership laws were long overdue and that the "reach rule" was stifling commercial broadcasters in regional areas.

Mr Taylor also said the anti-siphoning list, which mandates high-profile sporting events be shown on free-to-air television, would increasingly become redundant as sporting codes stream their own content online.

A spokesman for shadow communications minister Jason Clare said the opposition would decide its position if, and when, the government introduced legislation.

Fairfax Media understands Labor would be open to supporting the abolition of the reach rule, given it proposed this measure when last in government. Scrapping the "two out of three" rule would be more controversial because of concerns about media diversity.

View the article on the Sydney Morning Herald.