‘Ide­ol­ogy de­layed me­dia re­forms’

The Australian - - THE NATION - ROSIE LEWIS

Se­nate power­bro­ker Nick Xenophon says ne­go­ti­a­tions over the gov­ern­ment’s sweep­ing me­dia re­forms were “much more pro­tracted” be­cause of an ide­o­log­i­cal op­po­si­tion to new mea­sures that would ben­e­fit Guardian Aus­tralia.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Mitch Fi­field se­cured a ma­jor win last week af­ter the me­dia over­haul passed the Se­nate fol­low­ing months of cross­bench talks and side deals with the Nick Xenophon Team and Pauline Han­son’s One Na­tion.

Sen­a­tor Fi­field in­sisted that the gov­ern­ment had not “ap­plied any ide­o­log­i­cal tests” to the NXT’s $60.4 mil­lion in­no­va­tion pack­age for re­gional and small pub­lish­ers, which was de­signed for Aus­tralian or­gan­i­sa­tions and “those that had been dis­rupted”.

Com­pa­nies such as Guardian Aus­tralia, owned by for­eign en­ti­ties, will not be able to ap­ply for the fund­ing grants, while Crikey, The Saturday Pa­per and The Monthly can.

“The po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity was some in the Coali­tion and some in the cross­bench weren’t go­ing to ac­cept the Guardian be­ing in­cluded, even though from my per­spec­tive Guardian Aus­tralia has a sep­a­rate ed­i­to­rial board, runs sep­a­rately from the UK busi­ness and is em­ploy­ing Aus­tralian jour­nal­ists to tell Aus­tralian sto­ries,” Sen­a­tor Xenophon said.

“There were pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions on this is­sue, but in the end I did not want the en­tire pack­age to fall over. Ne­go­ti­a­tions at all times with Min­is­ter Fi­field were very ro­bust, but al­ways in good faith.”

Fair­fax and News Corp Aus­tralia, pub­lisher of The Aus­tralian, will not be el­i­gi­ble for the in­no­va­tion grants un­der the NXT pack­age but they will be able to ap­ply for re­gional cadet­ships.

Asked whether Guardian Aus­tralia could also ap­ply for the cadet­ships, also for “small” metro pub­lish­ers, Sen­a­tor Xenophon said: “That is a mat­ter for in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the fund.”

Sen­a­tor Fi­field said the gov­ern­ment was “not bail­ing any­one out” be­cause the NXT fund, which Sen­a­tor Xenophon de­manded in ex­change for sup­port­ing the re­peal of me­dia own­er­ship rules that ham­pered tra­di­tional com­pa­nies, would last only three years.

“A lim­ited amount of money, $60m, yes, that’s real money but it’s pretty small when you com­pare it to the bil­lion dol­lars plus that the ABC re­ceives,” Sen­a­tor Fi­field told the ABC’s In­sid­ers yes­ter­day.

“We want to pro­vide some tar­geted as­sis­tance to these busi­nesses to be bet­ter pre­pared for the me­dia en­vi­ron­ment in which they op­er­ate.”

He also de­fended the One Na­tion deal, which could force the pub­lic broad­caster to dis­close salaries of its top earn­ers and will see the gov­ern­ment in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion to re­quire the ABC to be “fair and bal­anced”.

The broad­caster’s char­ter al­ready states it must be “ac­cu­rate” and “im­par­tial”.

“(The ABC) will op­er­ate ex­actly as it does now ... We’re sim­ply re­in­forc­ing through leg­is­la­tion that which is al­ready in the ABC’s own ed­i­to­rial poli­cies,” Sen­a­tor Fi­field said.

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