Ministers for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Minister for Communications

Minister for the Arts

Manager of Government Business in the Senate

Drive with Raf Epstein 774ABC Melbourne 4pm AEST 11 May 2017

12 May 2017

E & OE

EPSTEIN:
Before we get to that, what's going to happen to the media here in Australia. The Government wants to scrap the two out of three rule. That stops any one owner having a TV station, a radio station and a paper in one town. So what could happen? You could have the Murdoch's buying Channel Ten. You could have Channel Nine teaming up with Fairfax. Either way, a big winner could be Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. But they've already won. They're getting $30 million over four years to promote women's sports. What do you want from the media in this country? It's been tested like never before in the United States. And now there are news laws coming to Australia. So what do you want from the media in Australia? 1300 222 774.

So amongst the Government's reforms announced at the weekend before the budget, scrapping the two out of three rule. That would mean that companies can now own a TV station, a radio station and a newspaper in once city. To discuss these and other measures, the Communications Minister Mitch Fifield joins us. Good afternoon. Why do you want to scrap the two out of three rule?

FIFIELD:
Well, the two out of three rule, like many of our other media laws was designed in an era before the internet existed. So our media laws don't recognise that the internet is here. It's happening, that there is media all over it.

These media laws were well-intentioned when they were designed. The purpose was to prevent a concentration of media ownership. To ensure that there was diversity. But we now live in a different world. And the two out of three rule, really is a constraint on Australian media organisations configuring themselves in ways that better support their viability. And the package that I announced at the weekend was all about supporting the viability of Australian media organisations. Making sure we've got strong Australian media organisations. And that we continue to have good strong Australian media voices.

EPSTEIN:
And look, that's something that everybody supports. I guess the obvious example is News. So the Murdoch's company owns a tabloid paper in every city, half the only pay TV operator, one of the few national newspapers. Lachlan Murdoch is co-chair of News. He's also with Channel 10. His company runs the Nova radio stations and Smooth FM. If the two out of three rule goes through, the Murdoch's will be able to own even more outlets. Is that a good thing?

FIFIELD:
Well, it's interesting. Fairfax has been in the press a bit of late. And Fairfax is at the forefront of arguing for the abolition of the two out of three rule. So is the Ten Network. And one of the very interesting things about the package of reforms that I've put forward is that they are supported by every media organisation in the country.

EPSTEIN:
No, I understand that and you might have an interesting marriage between Fairfax and Channel Ten. But there still is the issue of diversity of voices. The Murdoch family companies have extensive voices in this country, they'll have even more.

FIFIELD:
Well, we're not proposing to get rid of all of the media rules. There will still be the one to a market rule which means that a crowd can only have one TV station in a given market. There will still be the two to a market rule which means that one crowd can only have two radio licenses in a given market. And there'll still be something called the five/four rule, or the voices rule, which says that you've got to have five independent media voices in a metro market, and four independent media voices in a regional market.

EPSTEIN:
So does the Foxtel interest stop the Murdoch's having an interest in Channel Nine or Channel Ten?

FIFIELD:
Well, I don't comment on particular scenarios that could unfold. Ultimately if we change the media laws, it is for individual media organisations to pursue what they think is in their best interests.

EPSTEIN:
Can I rephrase the question, if you've got an interest in a Pay TV operator and a Free to Air TV station, does that breach the rules as you would like to see them?

FIFIELD:
Well, the rule that we're talking about, the two out of three rule applies to the three traditional platforms of free to air TV, commercial radio, and print. One of the other rules that we're seeking to get rid of, just for the sake of completeness, is something called the 75% audience reach rule. Which means that you can't have a TV operation with 100% reach around Australia. Now, that's rendered completely irrelevant by the fact that we now have streaming which goes to 100% of the nation. But I know we hear a lot when we have this sort of discussion about people who have concerns about diversity if the two out of three rule is gone. But one of the things that would really be a crushing blow to media diversity in Australia is if Australian media organisations just slowly fade away. What we need to do is make...

EPSTEIN:
So will you present this as something that could save Fairfax?

FIFIELD:
Well again, I don't want to comment on any individual media organisation, but if we get rid of the two out of three rule it gives Australian media organisations a wider range of options as to how to configure themselves and who to configure themselves with in Australia. And we have every media organisation in Australia: Seven, Nine, Ten, Win, Prime, Southern Cross Austereo, News Limited, Fairfax, Free TV, and Astra all saying this package that we're putting forward should be supported as a whole. And I think Australian media organisations are really in the best position to know what's in their own interests, in the interests of their staff, in the interests of their viability.

EPSTEIN:
Mitch Fifield's with us, the Communications Minister. They should get you in the Middle East if you can get that agreement across. Just one more aspect to it that has raised a lot of eyebrows. The Free to Airs will pay far less for the spectrum that they use, TV license fees. But the PayTV operator will receive $30 million over four years to broadcast women's sport and also some other niche sports. Why do they need money to broadcast women's sport? I mean it is getting more popular and more lucrative on its own. Why does Foxtel need money for that?

FIFIELD:
What we've put forward is a whole package. And you're right, we are abolishing free to air TV licence fees. They are something that came into place in the late 50s early 60s basically as a super profits tax of its time because there wasn't really serious competition with electronic media. So, what we're doing is we're abolishing that and we're putting in its place a much more modest spectrum charge. And what we will see is a huge shot in the arm for FreeTV. But, what we're doing is we're taking that opportunity to provide a community dividend in the form of a ban on gambling advertising during live sporting events, between 5 in the morning and 8:30 at night. Now, subscription TV don't pay license fees. We recognise that they operate in a different environment and as a recognition of that, we don't want women's sport, we don't want what you might call niche sports or broad-based community sports that don't always get a good go, we don't want those suffering. So that's why we've put aside this fund.

EPSTEIN:
Do they need the money though? Does Foxtel need more money to broadcast sport? They've already got tonnes of channels, are they the best people to give money to broadcast more women's sport?

FIFIELD:
We don't want the changes that we're putting in place to have an adverse effect on those sports.

EPSTEIN:
Mitch Fifield, Communications Minister, thank you very much.

[ends]

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