Voices in the Media

It's been just a few short weeks, but already media reform is making headlines. See here for media coverage of the 'Save Our Voices' campaign.

October 21, 2016 Why regional TV is trapped in Groundhog Day rerun

Sydney Morning Herald | Ian Audsley, Grant Blackley and Andrew Lancaster | 21 October 2016


If you have seen the film Groundhog Day, you will recall Bill Murray's character is a Pittsburgh weatherman, sent to a small town in Pennsylvania by his television network to cover the annual event for the news. Finding himself caught in a frustrating, seemingly endless time loop, Murray's character is trapped in a small country town, experiencing the same day over and over again.

This film resonates on a number of levels. First, it highlights the importance of covering regional news events. Secondly, all regional media organisations have been experiencing their own form of Groundhog Day for close to four years. While the film has a predictably positive Hollywood conclusion, the story arc for the future of regional media is less optimistic.

In recent years, regional media companies have made countless representations to both Coalition and Labor governments about the importance of preserving a vibrant regional media sector. Our Groundhog Day story has been consistent: we are trapped in an environment that means our capacity to continue to deliver services to regional Australians is steadily declining.

There are two key factors contributing to this: the laws under which we operate are redundant, and we are being saturated by the proliferation of internet-based media companies, many of which are global juggernauts who pay no tax and employ no staff in this country.

With the blessing of the current parliament, overseas and large Australian media companies are taking advantage of the outdated laws and the internet to reach our audiences.

Audiences we have served for more than 50 years. In addition to taxes, we pay hefty licence fees to the government for the honour of broadcasting into regional Australian homes every day and in return, we deliver local news and community services.

Vibrant local media is an undervalued asset that connects people with their community, keeping them informed of news and issues that affect their families, and it helps those communities to remain economically strong.

In contrast, internet-based media companies pay nothing for that privilege and sadly they give back very little – if anything – to regional communities.

Despite the fact that for years we have prosecuted the case for media reform on the basis that the current media laws are anachronistic and that the future of local news services is under threat, we find ourselves – for the second time this year – having to appear before a Senate inquiry into the Media Reform Bill to make our case again.

We are not averse to competition, but having to compete for audiences and advertising revenue with one hand tied behind our back is, to put it purely and simply, unfair and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to thrive.

Regional media is an integral part of the nation's tapestry and regional Australians deserve a voice. With job losses in our sector, including in regional newspapers, regional and rural Australia risks losing its voice.

Australians living beyond the capital cities deserve access to local news services and a platform on which to advertise their businesses and they deserve employment opportunities commensurate with their city-based counterparts.

Surely, the evidence is clear. The case has been made. We doubt there is a politician in Canberra who wants to say they presided over an outdated regulatory regime that held back regional media. The time has come when our Groundhog Day must end. Let's hope there is a happy ending.

Ian Audsley is chief executive of Prime Media Group. Grant Blackley is chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo. Andrew Lancaster is chief executive of WIN.

March 01, 2016 Coalition approves media law shake-up

Sydney Morning Herald | Dominic White with Max Mason | 1 March 2016


The Turnbull government has defied media moguls Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes by proposing to scrap Keating-era media ownership laws but denying News Corp's pay television venture Foxtel more access to sports rights and delaying a possible TV licence fee cut until the May Budget.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield announced what he called the "most significant media reform in Australian media in a generation", scrapping two key laws in a move that could unleash a wave of mergers and acquisitions and would allow News Corp to buy Channel Ten or Fairfax Media to merge with Nine Entertainment.

The changes will abolish the reach rule, which prevents mergers between regional television networks and their metropolitan affiliates, and the two-out-of-three rule, which stops any proprietor from owning a newspaper, radio station and television network in the same major market.

Extra local content obligations will be imposed on regional television networks if they are acquired by or merged with another company, and networks' operations in areas not currently captured by that regime will be required to produce some local content if their ownership changes.

But the anti-siphoning list of sports quarantined for free-to-air television is unchanged despite News Corp saying it would only support other reforms if it was cut.

Richard Freudenstein, the chief executive of Foxtel, which News owns with Telstra, said the Government had "missed the opportunity to do the job thoroughly". "Yet again we see piecemeal change benefiting one section of the industry but nothing to reduce the regulatory burden on the growing subscription sector which injects billions into the economy and employs thousands of Australians," he said.

Senator Fifield, who has left the door open to a reduction to the list in future, told a press conference in Canberra: "If there was to be meaningful change (to the list) in the future I think it would need to enjoy the broad support of the Parliament."

Nine sitting prettier

Mr Stokes' Seven West Media, which analysts say will do worse than rival Nine from the changes, dismissed the Bill pointedly for failing to "address the 4.5 per cent gross revenue licence fee that is crippling our ability to invest in local news, live sport, drama and other programming".

"Media ownership changes might be great for the deal junkies out there but they are not going to ensure a strong future for Australian film and television production," said Seven chief executive Tim Worner said.

"You won't see one more minute of local content as a result of these changes, in fact you will probably see a lot less, especially in regional Australia. It's disappointing that the Government has not walked the talk when it says it wants to focus on innovation and the future.

"These changes tinker with rules put in place by the Howard Government 10 years ago. They do nothing to improve competitiveness or offer better services."

Senator Fifield said licence fees would be addressed in the context of the May budget, and expressed sympathy with the networks' argument that they are outdated due to flood of competition from foreign players such as Google and Netflix. In January, Fairfax Media revealed that the Department of Communications recommended that Mr Fifield cut the free-to-air industry's $153 million annual licence fees.

Asked if he was concerned about a possible backlash, including from the Murdoch press, Senator Fifield said the decision on what reforms to propose had been taken in the public interest. "My discussions with all media organisations have been cordial and professional and we've made sure they have good input and are not surprised by the outcome," he said.

Labor worried about power of News

The Bill will be lodged with the House of Representatives on Wednesday and will be referred by the Government to a Senate committee, increasing the chances that it may not pass before an election if the Government calls an early poll.

Labor has signalled it is willing to repeal the reach rule but has yet to back abolition of the two-out-three rule amid some fears such a move could hand more power to News Corp.

Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare said: "We accept and understand that the digital world has changed our media landscape but maintaining the diversity of our media is important.

"Labor will consider the evidence presented to this committee and determine our position on the bill through normal Shadow Cabinet and Caucus processes."

In order to guarantee the bill's passage, the Coalition will need the support of six of the eight Senate cross benchers if the Greens and the ALP block it.

Senator Fifield said he "would not dare" to speak for the cross bench but that they "have an open mind and recognise the media laws we have are being rendered redundant".

Regional television networks, which have led the campaign for the changes, were unanimous in their support

"The Minister's reform package will enable regional media businesses to achieve the necessary scale to determine their own future and start to reduce their dependency on others," said Ian Audsley, chief executive of Prime Media.

Senator Fifield announced that extra local content obligations will be imposed on regional television networks if they are acquired by or merged with another company, rising from 720 to 900 "points" of local content over a six week period. The changes would come in six months after the merger "trigger event".

Points of content

At the same time regional networks' operations in areas not currently captured by the local content regime will be require to produce local content, at a lower level of 320 points, if their ownership changes.

Networks will continue to earn one point for each minute of local content in a licence area, and two points for new content relevant to a local area, but will also earn three points for material that includes local footage from the area.

Senator Fifield told a press conference in Canberra this was "intended to serve as an incentive for broadcasters to have a presence that's local", such as employing cameramen and journalists.

WIN Corp chief executive Lancaster said: "The new local content obligations strike a sensible balance between ensuring reasonable levels of local content are maintained upon the merger of a regional and metro broadcaster, while ensuring local news services remain financially viable in the meantime."

Greg Hywood, chief executive of Fairfax Media, owner of The Australian Financial Review, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, welcomed the package, saying: "We believe the removal of these restrictions will provide substantial benefits to all Australians by strengthening local media. It also sets the platform for further media law reform in the future."

Ten Network chief executive Paul Anderson called Mr Fifield proposed changes an important first step in helping Australian media companies compete in a globalised market. "Ten Network is now competing directly for viewers and advertisers against large, global internet companies that are exempt from local media regulation, don't pay television licence fees, pay minimal corporate tax despite taking billions in advertising revenue in this market, and in some cases don't have a single local employee," Mr Anderson said.

"Meanwhile, we pay the highest broadcasting tax in the world on top of our normal corporate taxes and we are held back by media ownership rules that don't even recognise the existence of the internet."

Mr Anderson welcomed Mr Fifield's comments on television licence fees.

"Addressing television licence fees and updating media laws are essential if we want to see a vibrant, diverse and competitive Australian media industry going forward. These changes are critical and urgent if we want to retain local voices in our media and a local content production industry," Mr Anderson said.

Nine chief executive Hugh Marks, who has said licence fee cuts are his priority, said Mr Fifield's announcement on Tuesday was only the start of necessary reforms. "The central issue is how do we create a level playing field that enables us to compete effectively into the future with the global brands that have entered the market, and continue to provide Australian audiences with the very best free to air television service. This needs to be done in a way that stimulates Australian content and Australian jobs."


February 16, 2016 Media ownership law changes finally approach finish line

The Australian Financial Review | Laura Tingle | 15 February 2016


Communications Minister Mitch Fifield is close to achieving a breakthrough with the Nationals on local content in regional television that relies on a 'points system' to guarantee production of authentic local stories, paving the way for long delayed changes to media ownership rules.

After tortuously slow progress, the increasing likelihood of a deal on local content means there are growing expectations within both political and media circles that both the so-called reach rule and the two-out-of-three rule will now be dropped when Cabinet considers the issue within weeks.

The reach rule limits ownership of media to 75 per cent of the available audience. The two-out-of-three rule means media proprietors can own two out of three of newspapers, television and radio in a single market. However, the rule doesn't cover pay television or the internet.

Removing both laws would free up television and print media companies to restructure and cross-invest in different markets, opening the way for a major realignment of Australia's media industry.

In their time, both policies were seen as a protection for regional media services, though they were designed to constrain big media proprietors in television and print media from further consolidating their hold on national media markets.

The Nationals have, as a result, resisted changes to the policies in the past.

Points system

But there has been a growing recognition that the dynamics of the media market mean neither rule is viable in the future and, as a result, negotiations within the federal government have led to a proposal that regional television outlets meet a points system for local content to ensure regional news services maintain a real presence in the bush.

Until now, the Nationals – rather than other parties in Parliament – have been the main impediment to a change in the reach rule.

There is a broad perception that – while Labor remains hostile to a change in the two-out-of-three rule – there is a consensus that the change, if introduced, would go to a Senate committee rather than be blocked, leaving the way open for its eventual passage.

While the positioning and lobbying of the various media proprietors – who have strikingly different positions on almost every aspect of media policy – is intense, the first step towards getting an outcome rests with pacifying the Nationals by protecting regional news coverage.

Two-out-of-three can't continue

There has been a significant shift in this area in recent weeks by both regional television operators and Nationals MPs, who were previously arguing for the retention of the two-out-of-three rule to protect local content.

A number of sources say there has been a realisation the rule cannot continue because it prevents much needed investment in regional networks.

The proposed content points system would see regional television operators required to produce 900 points of local content every six weeks, equating ato about 30 minutes a day.

Because of concerns that regional television already centralises supposed "regional" coverage in one centre, and provides so-called rip and read coverage of press releases, there would be different points weightings for different forms of news, with locally produced television vision gaining three points compared to one point for reading out a rip and read press release.

Sticking point

The main sticking point between Mr Fifield and the Nationals is believed to be how this system would come in.

Queensland MP Keith Pitt, who was promoted to the Turnbull government's frontbench on the weekend, has been chairing the Nationals Working Group on media reform since last October.
He told The Australian Financial Review that the Nationals working group want to see the local content points system introduced as part of the media laws, while regional television operators hope it can be put in place on a "trigger" basis – that is, if there is an actual ownership change which would only affect incoming owners.

At Senate estimates committee hearings last week, Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie quizzed officials of the Australian Communications and Media Authority about a possible change in licence requirements from requiring "material of local significance" to "locally produced content".

Senator McKenzie quizzed ACMA about the extent of rip and read broadcasts that were filling local content provisions.

November 17, 2015 Media reform beyond reach

The Australian | Darren Davidson and Jake Mitchell | 17 November 2015

November 17, 2015 Ten, NBN call for action on reform

The Australian Financial Review | Max Mason and David Ramli | 17 November 2015

November 09, 2015 Malcolm Turnbull, Mitch Fifield set to dump TV reach rule

The Australian | Darren Davidson and Michael Bodey | 9 November 2015

November 09, 2015 Falloon hopeful of media reform

Sydney Morning Herald | Dominic White | 9 November 2015

November 06, 2015 ACCC Chairman Rod Sims has his say on media reform

WIN News Illawarra | Tanya Dendrinos | 6 November 2015

November 02, 2015 Media law reform: Time to end outdated media laws

The Australian Financial Review | Tim Fischer | 2 November 2015

November 02, 2015 Government prepares to move on reach rule

Australian Financial Review | Dominic White and Max Mason | 2 November 2015

October 26, 2015 Nine to stream all channels live online

The Australian Financial Review | Dominic White and Max Mason | 26 October 2015

October 26, 2015 Media rules have become ridiculous

The Australian Financial Review | Editorial | 26 October 2015

October 26, 2015 Mumbrella: 26 October 2015

Regional broadcasters slam ‘mockery’ of reach rules as Nine prepares video streaming play | Mumbrella | Nic Christensen | 26 October 2015

October 19, 2015 News Corp and Foxtel tread lightly on media reform

The Australian Financial Review | Dominic White | 19 October 2015

October 12, 2015 Regional Australia backs media reform finds a new survey

The Australian Financial Review | Dominic White | 12 October 2015

October 12, 2015 Scott should not be the only choice

Senator Dean Smith | The Australian Financial Review | 12 October 2015

October 10, 2015 Self interest is holding back reform, says Nine

The Australian | Darren Davidson | 10 October 2015

October 09, 2015 Mumbrella: 9 October 2015

Grant Blackley says radio not TV is key to SCA revival and takes shot at Ten for lack of bravery | Mumbrella | Alex Hayes | 9 October 2015

October 05, 2015 Regionals float takeover trigger in media reform bid

The Australian Financial Review | Dominic White | 5 October 2015

October 02, 2015 Media Reform would grant Australian media growth

AdNews | Lucy Carroll, Pippa Chambers and Rachael Micallef | 2 October 2015

September 29, 2015 Angus Taylor, MP on media deregulation - WIN News

WIN News Illawarra | Melissa Russell | 29 September 2015

September 29, 2015 Media legislation has fallen far behind the times and it's time for change

Angus Taylor, Federal Member for Hume | Sydney Morning Herald | 29 September 2015

Australia's media ownership rules come from a pre-internet era and in the face of massive technological changes, there needs to be a complete overhaul.

September 28, 2015 MP's, broadcasters call for urgent change to media ownership laws

Sydney Morning Herald | Matthew Knott | 28 September 2015

September 28, 2015 Media laws, sports rights shake up

The Australian Financial Review | Dominic White | 28 September 2015

September 15, 2015 Tim Fischer’s advice to new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

The Border Mail | Shana Morgan | 15 September 2015

Former deputy prime minister and Nationals leader Tim Fischer has urged the country's new leader to listen to more regional voices.

September 15, 2015 PwC: There is no hurdle to media reform now Turnbull is PM

AdNews | Rosie Baker, Rachael Micallef, Sarah Homewood | 15 September 2015

September 11, 2015 PRIME7 to cut senior editorial role in Tamworth

The Northern Daily Leader | Ann Newling | 11 September 2015

September 10, 2015 Fischer goes into bat for regional media

The Land | Jessie Davies | 10 September 2015

September 09, 2015 ABC Radio National - Interview with Tim Fischer

 Regional broadcasters fight to save local bulletins: Tim Fischer on RN Breakfast | 9 September 2015

September 09, 2015 Tim Fischer predicts another Tony Abbott back flip on regional media laws

The Age | James Massola, Matthew Knott | 9 September 2015

Tony Abbott may backflip over a stalled plan to reform media ownership laws in the same way he has over a push to take more Syrian refugees fleeing danger, former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer says.

September 08, 2015 Mumbrella

Ex-deputy PM Tim Fischer says ‘watch this space’ as he fronts new media reform push | Mumbrella |Nic Christensen | 08 September 2015

September 07, 2015 Windsor knocks on Barnaby Joyce's door

The Australian Financial Review | Will Glasgow | September 7 2015

One office that is going to be frequently visited this week is that of the Nationals heir apparent Barnaby Joyce.

September 07, 2015 Media pitch tents near PM's happy campers

The Australian Financial Review | Will Glasgow | September 7 2015

Prime Minister Tony Abbott's happy campers return to Federal Parliament in Canberra on Monday for their second spring session.

August 31, 2015 Roger: Over and out - with a parting shot

The Sydney Morning Herald | Elizabeth Knight | August 31 2015 

Fairfax Media chairman, Roger Corbett has thrown a parting grenade at what he describes as the outdated media ownership laws in Australia, at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp for flouting the current laws and at the policy vacuum in Canberra that is retarding moves to remove them.

August 31, 2015 Prime's Hartigan backs reform push

The Age, Melbourne | Max Mason | 31 Aug 2015

Prime Media Group chairman John Hartigan has defended the company's push for media reform and said an attack by Seven Group chief executive Ryan Stokes is aimed at securing a seat on the regional broadcaster's board.


August 26, 2015 Switch TV rules - Broad

Sunraysia Daily | Christopher Testa | 26 August 2015

MEMBER for Mallee Andrew Broad has called for Mildura to receive stronger protection under local content standards for broadcasting.

Mr Broad rose in Parliament this week to speak about the Save our Voices campaign being promoted by regional networks Prime, WIN, Imparja and Southern Cross Austereo to lobby for the 75 per cent reach rule to be removed.

August 25, 2015 Tim Fischer to reboot plan for media changes

The Sydney Morning Herald | James Massola | 25 August 2015

FORMER member for Farrer and deputy prime minister Tim Fischer has been drafted in by regional TV networks to take on the Abbott government over stalled media reform plans.

In a sign of the growing disquiet in the bush over the stalled reform process Mr Fischer, a former Nationals leader and ambassador to the Holy See, will take up a role as one of the faces of the "Save our Voices" campaign from September 7.

August 24, 2015 Regional MPs intensify media reform campaign

The Australian Financial Review | Dominic White | August 24 2015

Support is growing among regional MPs for the government to abolish cross-media ownership laws, adding pressure on the Prime Minister Tony Abbott to consider the move despite opposition from billionaire moguls Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes.

August 24, 2015 Seven takes out hypocrisy stakes with new live-streaming app

The Australian | Mark Day | August 24 2015

The game of media politics is no less brutal than the real thing. The first requisite for players is to have a tough hide and an adherence to the rule “never give a sucker an even break”.

But there are times when self-interest and hypocrisy are so blatant and so aggressively in your face that it is incumbent on the umpire to blow the whistle.

View the article on The Australian.

August 19, 2015 Seven Network proves 'reach' rule must go

Prime7 | 19 August 2015

Australia’s four independent regional broadcasters – Prime, WIN, Southern Cross Austereo and Imparja – today described the launch of the Seven Network’s PLUS7 live streaming app as the strongest evidence yet that the “75% audience reach” rule and the “2 out of 3 ownership” rule are irrelevant and need to be repealed by the Federal Government.

August 19, 2015 Mumbrella

Prime and other Regional TV Networks Take Aim at New Plus7 Mobile App in Media Reform Push 

Mumbrella | Nic Christensen | August 19, 2015

Seven’s regional sister station Prime Media has joined with its other regional TV broadcasting brethren to accuse Network Seven of making a “mockery” of the reach rules with its newly launched mobile Plus7 TV streaming service.

Network Seven launched the mobile app this morning, highlighting how live-streaming of its three broadcast television channels, Seven, 7Mate and 7Two, could be used “everywhere” in Australia.

View the article on Mumbrella

August 10, 2015 Regional broadcasters 'optimistic' on media reform

The Australian Financial Review | Phillip Coorey | August 10 2015

Rural and regional Coalition MPs are urging Tony Abbott to rethink his refusal to leave media laws untouched and allow specific exemptions that would enable regional television networks to try and survive.

Following a meeting in Parliament on Monday between about 15 Coalition MPs and the chief executives of Prime Media, WIN Corp and Southern Cross, the MPs argued for an exemption from the rules that would allow the struggling networks to consider mergers and acquisitions with bigger metropolitan broadcasters.

August 08, 2015 Mumbrella

Prime, SCA and WIN launch regional advertising campaign aimed at pushing media reform

Mumbrella | Nic Christensen | 8 August 2015

Australia’s major regional media players Prime Media, Southern Cross Austereo and WIN have begun running an advertising campaign across TV and radio aimed at pushing the Federal Government to act on media reform.

View the article on Mumbrella.