‘Ideology delayed media reforms’
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.