Fifield hails media law victory

Fifield hails media law victory

The Australian government’s media reform bill has passed through the House of Representatives, heralding the biggest changes to the laws in almost 30 years.

Following the passing of the laws on Monday, Communications Minister Senator Mitch Fifield said: “The biggest reform to Australian media laws in nearly three decades will now become law after the Turnbull government’s comprehensive package of legislation achieved final passage through the House of Representatives today,”

“The government’s reforms will strengthen Australian media organisations to help ensure their future viability as well as support local jobs and strong Australian media voices.

“Redundant rules that date back to the 1980s, before the internet existed, will now be abolished and Australian media organisations will now have the chance to better compete with online operators,” he said.

Key changes include the repeal of the two-out-of-three law and the reach rule – which restricts media owners broadcasting to 75 per cent of the population or less. Axing the two-out-of-three rule will allow ownership in all of the traditional media channels, television, radio and print by one company.

Other inclusions include the abolition of free-to-air broadcast annual licence fees which affect television and radio. The fees that net the government around $130 million annually will be replaced with new annual spectrum fees that will generate $40 million in revenue.

The changes to media legislation have brought to an end the two-year debate to modernise the industry. It wasn’t until the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Bill was introduced in May, with the support of several of the country’s media executives, that true progress had been made.

The reform package struggled in the Senate, with the Coalition relying on the support of minor parties to secure the bill passing. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team were the key players, undertaking lengthy negotiations with Senator Fifield.

One Nation pledged its support in August, on the condition of reforms targeting public broadcasters ABC and SBS. The NXT followed in September, securing a $60.4 million innovation fund for regional and small publishers, among other initiatives, to boost competition and employment in the sector in return for his party’s support for the changes.

Despite Labor and the Greens staunchly opposing the repeal of the two-out-of-three rule, the reforms passed the Senate on September 14, with a vote of 31 – 27.