Government readies media law reforms

Government readies media law reforms

Australian Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has flagged the inclusion of protections for local content as part of the long-awaited media law reform package, which he hopes to introduce into Parliament “as soon as possible” in the first part of 2016.

Senator Fifield said Parliament would expect a reform package to include protections for local content, especially in light of the potential for the abolition of the “reach rule” to prompt a wave of mergers and acquisitions.

“We wouldn’t want to see a situation where, in anticipation of the opportunity for mergers, that media organisations reduced their local content. So we have to make sure that legislation was drafted in such a way to prevent that from happening,” Senator Fifield told ABC Radio National yesterday.

Senator Fifield had discussions with crossbenchers, the Opposition and his Coalition colleagues at the end of last year about the proposed reforms and said there were “very open minds”. He remained wary, however, of introducing legislation that would not gain the support of the Parliament.

“What I’m told and what I hear from various players in media markets is that they want the freedom to configure themselves the way that they best think suits their business,” Senator Fifield said.

“And that’s particularly important for regional operators who want to get scale. And the best protection for local news content, for instance, is to have businesses that are viable, that want to provide that content and are determined to provide it.”

Media law reform, which is expected to include the abolition of the “reach rule” and “two-out-of-three rule”, was a much-discussed topic of 2015, with  Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Rod Sims, News Corp Australia CEO Peter Tonagh and APN News & Media CEO Ciaran Davis all adding their voices to the debate.

The “two-out-of-three” rule prohibits a single entity controlling a commercial television licence, a commercial radio licence and a newspaper in the same area. The “reach rule” restricts single entities to broadcast audiences that do not exceed 75 per cent of the Australian population.

A precise timeframe for the legislation has yet to be announced, as well as the specific measures that would be included in the legislation to protect local content.

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