ABC Online | Louise Yaxley | 28 October 2015
A shake-up of regional television ownership is looking more likely, with Federal Government backbenchers pushing hard to scrap the rule that means no TV station can broadcast to more than 75 per cent of the nation.
They argue that instead of protecting regional Australians by ensuring they have access to local content, the rule is putting regional stations at risk of being unviable.
Liberal MP Angus Taylor strongly supports the regional broadcasters' campaign for the so-called "reach rule" to go.
"The regional networks are getting close to being unviable businesses now," he told the ABC's AM program.
"I think it is happening faster than most people had expected, the streaming of live content from the metropolitan stations into regional areas is just another example of how quickly this is unfolding."
Channel Seven has already announced it will stream its content on the internet and Channel Nine is expected to announce today it will stream all three of its channels.
Mr Taylor said being able to stream their content straight into regional areas when they had already charged the regional broadcasters to buy it for their free-to-air stations showed it was no longer viable to keep "a silly rule like this".
"Remember that the advertising from that streaming will go straight to the metropolitan stations not the regional ones," he said.
"Local news content is being cut back, there is less money available for TV transmission which is towers and that means that regional Australia suffers."
He argued scrapping the reach rule would mean smaller stations could team up with the big networks leaving regional broadcasters under less pressure to squeeze their news services.
I have been arguing behind the scenes in the Government that the first priority of the Government should be to see the issue of media reform through the lens of regional consumers and secondly to do everything to ensure that there is diversity of media forms for regional communities.
Liberal senator Dean Smith
Liberal senator Dean Smith, who chairs the backbench communications committee, argued the deteriorating financial performance of regional broadcasters means diversity could be lost.
"I have been arguing behind the scenes in the Government that the first priority of the Government should be to see the issue of media reform through the lens of regional consumers and secondly to do everything to ensure that there is diversity of media forms for regional communities," he said.
"Removing the reach rule would allow for some changes in media ownership across the regional landscape as a consequence of that I think you can expect to see improved financial performance of the regional broadcasters.
"There will be some concerns around maintaining local content that is a legitimate concern that has been raised by regional parliamentarians, I am of the view that those local content issues can be protected by some grandfathering arrangements."
He denied the regional broadcasters would be swallowed up by larger networks if the reach rule goes.
"I don't think that that is a real risk," Senator Smith said.
"I am confident having spoken to regional broadcasters that there is a desire to be in the regional media marketplace and I am confident that the abandonment of the reach rule will still allow for a vibrant regional media market that responds to that media diversity requirement."
Turnbull urged to act to stop 'one homogenised set of news'
The ABC understands a move is close and the Communications Department has held detailed discussions with broadcasters.
Independent MP Cathy McGowan pointed out that previous prime minister Tony Abbott rejected a push to change the law and called on Malcolm Turnbull to act.
"The media laws have been in place since last century and it is really I think timely that we had a major review," Ms McGowan said.
"It is becoming more and more urgent. The TV stations are calling for it, rural members of Parliament are calling for it and clearly the circumstances are changing rapidly so the sooner this can happen the better."
She wants a broad media review including what she calls the demise of regional newspapers.
"We are absolutely losing the ability in rural and regional Australia to report locally," she said.
"We are losing the ability to tell local stories in a local way.
"Unless the Government does clearly come out and set a framework for how we are going to be in this new century I think we are going to have one homogenised set of news."