Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has restated the Australian government’s commitment to media reform but says it needs to carefully balance two competing concerns – the need for diversity and to ensure that there are enough economically viable media businesses to make that diversity possible.
In his keynote address to the industry Future Forum hosted by The Newspaper Works in Sydney on Thursday, Mr Turnbull said consensus between major media companies would be a fundamental requirement before any reform could proceed.
Mr Turnbull said he first represented a media company on a media regulation inquiry in 1977.
“I have seen this film before, and I know that consensus ends where self-interest kicks in,” he said. “But I am in the process of holding focused discussions with senior executives in the industry to test if consensus can be achieved on the various proposals that have been put to me.”
“With an agenda that includes rolling out the NBN, reforming the public broadcasters and Australia Post, e-government and the promoting the digital economy I have explained to all the players that consensus is always a good place to start from to achieve any change.”
Mr Turnbull said the current media, telecommunications and radio communications regulatory framework was still based in a mid-1990s pre-Internet world of relatively stable technologies and business models.
“The pressures on the regulatory arrangements and the negative impact of out-dated regulation on the industry will only increase.”
He said the government recognised that the industry wanted reform in a range of policy areas, including “the current media ownership and control rules, the anti-siphoning scheme, retransmission of commercial and national free-to-air services, and options for the use of unassigned broadcasting spectrum.”
“Many in the industry have asked me to look at whether we still need platform specific media ownership rules. At its March 2014 meeting the broadcasting and media representatives on my Ministerial Advisory Council were also in broad agreement that reform was necessary, particularly where it could improve the economic stability of the sector in an increasingly difficult environment.”
“I believe in working with the industry not against it. I believe that given the massive increase in competition and diversity there should be less regulation of the media sector not more and I certainly do not intend to break with Australia’s peace time tradition and introduce government regulation of the content of your newspapers as the previous Labor Government attempted to do.”
Mr Turnbull said there had been some ill-informed debate over changes to the reach rule and local content.
“Let me just reiterate that any changes to media ownership will not affect the local content requirements that are a part of a radio or television licence,” he said.
“Everyone, the government included, is concerned that regional communities around Australia have access to news, presented and written by journalists who understand their area, their people and their issues.”
“In an ACMA report on local content, 91 per cent of regional Australians said they considered local content to be important, and again, 91 per cent of those surveyed believed they had access to all the local content they would like. As regional broadcasters and newspapers face increasing cost pressures, it’s important that regional Australians have access to a variety of sources for local news and information.”
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