Former Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader, Tim Fischer AC, and Australia’s four independent regional broadcasters today welcomed comments by the Minister for Communications, Senator Mitch Fifield that the Federal Government is committed to long overdue media reforms.
Mr. Fischer said: “We are delighted that our new Minister for Communications has indicated that he is in favour of reducing regulation, increasing competition and putting consumers’ interests first as primary factors in considering what needs to change.”
“We are also very pleased that Senator Fifield has clarified that the Government intends to look for a broad industry consensus to achieve change, as distinct from unanimous support which the Senator said was highly unlikely,” said Mr. Fischer.
Today’s media reports quote Senator Fifield as saying “there’s consensus and there’s unanimity. They are two separate things. Unanimity is everyone agreeing on everything which is highly unlikely. Broad consensus is a different threshold”.
Mr. Fischer said the remarks sent a “strong, clear signal that the Turnbull Government intended to take a practical, common sense approach to reform and won’t be diverted from the merits of reform by any one company protecting its self-interest, at the expense of other Australians.
“To a great extent we already have a broad consensus. The four regional broadcasters, Nine Entertainment Co and Fairfax Media all support the repeal of the 75% reach rule and the two out of three rule.
“And a large consumer research study due out later this week will show that the vast majority of Australians want the old rules updated to protect local news, local jobs and local investment in regional and rural Australia,” said Mr. Fischer.
The ‘Save Our Voices’ campaign was launched in August calling for changes to outdated media ownership and control laws that prevent regional broadcasters from competing fairly with their major metropolitan counterparts.
“Everywhere we look, regional voices are being cut back – at the three main regional networks, but also through cuts at the ABC and among Australia’s many independent regional and rural newspapers,” Mr. Fischer said.
“Local news and information is vitally important, and it must be protected and preserved if regional and rural Australia is to continue to have a voice.”
Prime, WIN, Southern Cross Austereo and Imparja want changes to the Broadcasting Services Act – legislation introduced in 1992 – to enable them to compete on a level playing field.
The Broadcasting Services Act restricts the number of types of media any one company can own in a licence area as well as the number of Australians each television network is allowed to reach.
It does not account for the internet or the fact that major metropolitan TV networks, internet news services and Pay TV now reach 100% of the Australian population via smartphones, tablets, linear streaming services and catch-up TV.
Faced with rising costs, restrictions on what economies of scale can be achieved and increased competition in regional licence areas, regional broadcasters have limited options to manage costs and remain viable.
“Cuts to local content on regional radio and television are inevitable unless our media laws change,” Mr. Fischer said.
“Changes to the broadcasting rules are urgently required if regional broadcasters are to compete on the same basis as everyone else in their local markets, and ensure that the big regional issues and important community information continues to get the coverage it deserves for the 9 million Australians living in regional, rural and remote areas.”
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