Turn­bull govern­ment se­cures deal to scrap me­dia own­er­ship con­trols

The Guardian Australia - - News - Katharine Mur­phy Po­lit­i­cal edi­tor

The Turn­bull govern­ment has se­cured the num­bers to scrap long­stand­ing con­trols on me­dia own­er­ship, and trig­ger a range of con­sol­i­da­tions in the Aus­tralian news land­scape that are likely to lead to fur­ther mar­ket con­cen­tra­tion.

Af­ter weeks of ne­go­ti­a­tion, the Nick Xenophon Team has agreed to sup­port the govern­ment pack­age in re­turn for lim­ited con­ces­sions de­signed to en­hance me­dia di­ver­sity, in­clud­ing a new $60m fund for in­de­pen­dent and re­gional pub­lish­ers, and fund­ing for young ru­ral jour­nal­ists.

Af­ter sig­nalling pub­licly that it would con­sider a broader range of di­ver­sity en­hanc­ing mea­sures, like in­tro­duc­ing tax breaks for smaller, in­de­pen­dent pub­lish­ers to en­cour­age them to em­ploy more jour­nal­ists – the Coali­tion back­tracked abruptly dur­ing the pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions with the NXT, and took tax breaks off the ta­ble.

The core of the govern­ment’s pro­posal, which has been pur­sued since the Coali­tion took of­fice in 2013, will in­volve the scrap­ping of the two-outof-three rule, which means me­dia moguls will be able to own tele­vi­sion, news­pa­pers and ra­dio sta­tions in the same mar­ket.

The govern­ment’s pack­age also ditches the 75% reach rule, which pre­vents Nine Entertainment, Seven West Me­dia and the Ten Net­work from own­ing their re­gional af­fil­i­ates, due to re­stric­tions on a TV net­work broad­cast­ing to more than 75% of the pop­u­la­tion.

Ma­jor Aus­tralian me­dia com­pa­nies pre­vi­ously op­posed scrap­ping own­er­ship re­stric­tions on the ba­sis it would make the me­dia land­scape less di­verse, but many have now switched camps and sup­port scrap­ping the own­er­ship re­stric­tions, claim­ing the over­haul will help them im­prove com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity.

While the govern­ment ar­gues the cur­rent reg­u­la­tions were drafted for the ana­logue age, and lack rel­e­vance in the dig­i­tal one, Aus­tralia’s me­dia mar­ket is al­ready one of the most con­cen­trated mar­kets in terms of own­er­ship in the de­vel­oped world.

In the Se­nate de­bate on Wed­nes­day night the Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, said mar­ket con­cen­tra­tion meant there was an im­per­a­tive to en­cour­age in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ism. “In any democ­racy, we should be en­cour­ag­ing a range of voices,” Di Natale said.

The new in­no­va­tion fund, to be ad­min­is­tered by the com­mu­ni­ca­tions reg­u­la­tor, will ben­e­fit smaller pub­lish­ers pro­vided they are Aus­tralian op­er­a­tions, and not con­nected with for­eign me­dia com­pa­nies – mean­ing com­pa­nies such as Guardian Aus­tralia, and po­ten­tially oth­ers, such as Buz­zFeed and the New York Times, will not be able to ap­ply for grants.

El­i­gi­ble small pub­lish­ers will be able to ap­ply for grants to per­form civic jour­nal­ism, buy equip­ment, and de­velop dig­i­tal prod­ucts, like new apps.

The govern­ment has agreed to pro­vide schol­ar­ships for jour­nal­ists from re­gional ar­eas, and ru­ral cadet­ships.

The govern­ment will also ask the Aus­tralian Com­pe­ti­tion and Con­sumer Com­mis­sion to con­duct an in­quiry into Google, Face­book and the other in­ter­net gi­ants, who are con­tribut­ing to a loss of ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue that is chal­leng­ing the com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity of news or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Xenophon told the cham­ber the ne­go­ti­a­tions to set­tle the pack­age were the most ro­bust, pro­tracted and dif­fi­cult ne­go­ti­a­tions he had en­gaged in in his 20 years in state and fed­eral pol­i­tics.

“This is a pack­age of mea­sures that will sup­port Aus­tralian jour­nal­ism,” Nick Xenophon told the Se­nate on Wed­nes­day night.

But the La­bor sen­a­tor Sam Dast­yari rounded on Xenophon af­ter he out­lined the terms of his deal to the Se­nate. “You are bet­ter than this dirty deal which has been done at the 11th hour.”

Dast­yari said me­dia di­ver­sity in Aus­tralia should not be traded off for “a $60m slush fund”.

“It doesn’t go to the Guardian. It doesn’t go to Buz­zFeed,” Dast­yari said. “We are sell­ing out jour­nal­ism for 60 schol­ar­ships?”

The La­bor sen­a­tor said the deal was struc­tured to ap­pease con­ser­va­tives both in the govern­ment and the Se­nate. “They are do­ing in the Guardian. You have thrown them un­der a bus”.

Dast­yari, who served with Xenophon on a Se­nate in­quiry into pub­lic in­ter­est jour­nal­ism, said the NXT leader had started out with big am­bi­tions, but had emerged from his talks with the govern­ment with mea­gre out­comes.

“I’m not op­posed to a deal, but at least make it a good one,” Dast­yari said.

The com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter Mitch Fi­field said the strong­est di­ver­sity pro­tec­tions were com­mer­cially vi­able me­dia com­pa­nies, not leg­isla­tive con­trols, and com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity would en­sure “strong me­dia voices” into the fu­ture.

“It pro­vides [me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions] with a shot in the arm, with a fight­ing chance,” Fi­field said.

While the govern­ment has now locked down the NXT, the Aus­tralian Con­ser­va­tives sen­a­tor Cory Bernardi is sig­nalling he will move amend­ments to the govern­ment’s broad­cast­ing bill dur­ing cham­ber de­bate to add the changes to the ABC sought by One Na­tion dur­ing its own pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions with the govern­ment.

The govern­ment came to terms with One Na­tion weeks ago, but the deal is ba­si­cally mean­ing­less, be­cause there is not broad par­lia­men­tary sup­port to amend the ABC’s char­ter or cut its fund­ing. That would need to be done in sep­a­rate leg­is­la­tion, and the num­bers aren’t there.

Pho­to­graph: Mike Bow­ers for the Guardian

Nick Xenophon has won some con­ces­sions from the govern­ment on the me­dia own­er­ship deal.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.