TV streaming could force the government into media reform

The Australian Financial Review | Max Mason | 28 October 2015

Support within the government for scrapping the reach rule is building with Seven and Nine's move to stream their channels over the internet making the legislation "redundant".

However, Palmer United Senator Zhenya "Dio" Wang said he was prepared to introduce his own media reform bill if he feels the government isn't doing enough to get the process moving.

Liberal Senator Dean Smith, chair of the government's backbench communications committee, said it was "very clear that the reach rule is redundant."

"The current and planned streaming activities by some media players has significantly undermined the argument for status quo," Mr Smith said.

"Coalition MPs should support abandoning the reach rule because the interests of regional consumers are more important that those of media proprietors."

Angus Taylor, Liberal MP from Hume, called the reach rule "antiquated", saying it was a misfit in the modern era when streaming can reach 100 per cent of the national audience.

"This makes the positions of the regional networks even more vulnerable because they are buying expensive content from the metro networks who can now go around them on the internet," Mr Taylor said.

"The urgent thing here is to get rid of the reach rule - the day has come."

In June, Mr Wang had been in discussions with then-Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull about introducing a private member's bill to abolish the reach rule preventing TV broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the population, and the two-out-of-three rule, which stops media companies from owning a newspaper, radio network and TV station in one market. That would have been in return for his support on legislation that would have allowed SBS to double its prime-time advertising.

However, Tony Abbott, as Prime Minister, quashed the proposal for the private member's bill on media reform and the SBS bill failed.

Senator Wang told Fairfax Media that Mr Turnbull, now Prime Minister, and new Communications Minister Mitch Fifield have been very supportive about deregulating the media and that was signal the government may be ready to move on media reform.

He said he would be talking to the government about its media reform plans and if they were too "passive", he would look to introduce his own bill that would involve local content obligations.

"When the rules were made the internet wasn't around, I think the two-out-of-three and reach rule have to go at the same time," Mr Wang said.

He added that streaming channels 24/7 was "evidence that the reach rule is out of date."

Regional broadcasters Prime Media, WIN Corporation and Southern Cross Media have been campaigning the government to scrap the reach rule and two out of three rule.

They have been supported by Nine Entertainment and Fairfax Media, owner of The Australian Financial Review and BusinessDay.

Seven West Media chief executive Tim Worner told Fairfax Media the network has been "wrong characterised" as being against media reform.

"That's wrong," he said. "What we are for is holistic reform. A package of reforms that will help everyone in the industry."

Foxtel, which is 50-50 owned by News Corp and Telstra, has previously said it would "absolutely" support the removal of the reach rule and two-out-of-three rule if they were part of an overall media reform package which included the loosening of anti-siphoning.

The anti-siphoning scheme stops subscription television from buying broadcasts rights to sports on the anti-siphoning list before free-to-air broadcasters have been given the chance to buy them

View the article on the Australian Financial Review.