Senate stalemate again puts media reform on hold

Senate stalemate again puts media reform on holdSenator Nick Xenophon is the biggest player standing in the way of media reforms.

The Australian government’s media law reforms are back on hold after the Coalition and Senator Nick Xenophon could not agree on changes to the package.

The government withdrew the legislation because of the impasse before parliament rose last night, meaning it will now not come before the Senate until the sitting that begins on Monday, September 4.

Senator Xenophon, the leader of NXT, opposed changes affecting the operations of the ABC and SBS agreed to by the government to secure the vote of One Nation senators.

The government also could not accept Senator Xenophon’s demand for tax offsets worth up to $50 million a year for small media companies, because of concerns niche websites, or even foreign-owned sites such as Daily Mail Australia or The Guardian, would be eligible.

Communication Minister Mitch Fifield will continue negotiations with Senator Xenophon during the parliamentary break. Any agreement, however, will come too late for some bidders for the Ten Network, which is in receivership.

With the deadline for bids closing today, the offer by the consortium headed by News Corporation executive co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch and WIN founder Bruce Gordon is dependent on passage of the reforms, which would have lifted ownership restrictions.

While the Murdoch-Gordon offer remains on the table, receivers PPB Advisory would have to factor in risk when deciding on the value of each bid, which could place it at a disadvantage to the offers by foreign-based hedge funds, such as Anchorage Capital.

The government’s attempts to pass the media reform laws became unstuck after it had reached a deal with One Nation. The Pauline Hanson-led party pledged to support the Coalition reforms on condition the government hold an inquiry into the operations of the two public broadcasters, as well as legislate to ensure fairness and balance in their news reporting.

While the agreement garnered support of the four One Nation senators, it alienated others on the crossbench, in particular the three NXT senators needed to pass the legislation.

Even with the support of NXT, the government would have required the votes of two others from the crossbench. This may be an easier task than winning over NXT.

Senator Xenophon declared yesterday that the changes affecting the ABC were dead in the water, as they were opposed by his party, Labor and the Greens.

“They can make any commitment they want to One Nation but that simply will not get across the line in the Senate because we don’t support those changes,” he said.

The impasse also cast doubt on the One Nation deal. However, One Nation senator Brian Burston said the party would still support the government’s reform package. “We’ll stick to our end of the bargain,” he said.

Seeing the writing on the wall, the government did not include the changes to the ABC negotiated with One Nation in its media reform package on Wednesday. Instead, it will introduce separate legislation later this year, meaning passage of the media reforms – in theory – do not depend on delivering One Nation’s proposals.

The legislation proposed by One Nation would require changes to the charters of the ABC and SBS to ensure their news and information services are fair and balanced. The inquiry into the operations of the public broadcasters would look at spending and whether they are encroaching on the commercial media space.

One Nation also wants greater transparency, and called for the wages and conditions of all staff who earn more than $200 000 to be made public – in addition to a further investigation of spending patterns

As part of the deal struck between the two parties, the One Nation proposals would see an additional $12 million be directed to funding community radio. The money, more specifically, would be spent on digital rollout support, and industry capacity funding and additional skill training.