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

Interview with Ross Greenwood 2GB Money News 6.35pm AEDT 11 May 2017

12 May 2017

E & OE

GREENWOOD:
As we told you earlier this week, was a significant reform to media laws in Australia. Now this is something of an accomplishment that should not be underestimated. Because it would be reasonable to say that there has been changes to media laws mooted, planned and then rejected for around the last 20 years. And if you consider how much media has changed in that 20 year period, consider that the iPhone is just 10 years old today, then you've got a situation where you understand just how much that media landscape has changed and therefore how it outdated the laws were. Now the reason why the laws were never updated is largely because the media industry itself could never agree on what the laws should be so there was never a unified voice. And governments across that period of time were either scared of media proprietors, or weak, or simply couldn't make a decision, or were not in a position politically to make those changes. Well the man who really pushed this through with the combined consent of the big media players in Australia is Mitch Fifield, the Minister for Communications and the Arts who's on the line right now.Many thanks for your time Mitch.

FIFIELD:
Good to be with you Ross.

GREENWOOD:
Ok, so you've basically saved the /poadcasters both radio, television owners and also others $130 million a year in regards to their licence fees. Is that $130 million that just came straight out of the Budget?  

FIFIELD:
No. We're putting in the place of those outdated and archaic licence fees a more modest spectrum charge of about $40 million a year. So there will be a significant benefit to the free to air TV and radio /poadcasters. But we've also, importantly taken that opportunity to provide a community dividend in the form of a ban on gambling advertising during live sporting events up until 8.30 at night. So even taking that into account, the /poadcasters will be, in net terms, in a much better position.

GREENWOOD:
Ok, so let's be honest, when these laws, you know going back 20 years as I spoke about. Fairfax was actually a major Australian company at that time. It quite clearly is not as big, they're the major shareholders in this radio network but it also seems now that that they could be /poken up and sold out to private equity if they agree to try and go ahead with some sort of deal. It is true isn't it that the big players inside media in Australia right now are Facebook and Google. Do these laws pick up any of the issues that right now relate to Facebook and Google?

FIFIELD:
Well, obviously it's a very different business environment today with the Facebooks and the Googles. When TV came to Australia in the late 50s, early 60s, there wasn't really any other form of electronic competition which is one of the reasons why then they in effect had a super profits tax in the form of licence fees. In recognition of the changed environment we're getting rid of the licence fees, but we as a government have done something important..

GREENWOOD:
So you're making a parallel there between the communications and the banks in the old days are you Mitch?

FIFIELD:
(laughs) It was a different time.

GREENWOOD:
I understand, except there were probably four of them and there's four big banks. And a lot of the banks arguing that they shouldn't have a profits tax, what you're saying is that they might have been out there in the past in different industries?

FIFIELD:
Well there certainly was..

GREENWOOD:
Well, I think that's what you're doing Mitch.. (laughs)

FIFIELD:
But I should point out Ross which you well know that the Treasurer has put in place the diverted profits tax to make sure that some of these big overseas companies, some of whom are the Googles of this world, pay their fair share.

GREENWOOD:
Ok, so isn't the bigger thing, along with the tax, because the tax is vital for Australia. If you've got foreign media companies coming in and basically cannibalising existing media players and then moving that money offshore and not paying tax here in Australia, then that is really unconscionable and should not be put up with by anybody. But the second aspect is the way in which they operate and that is let's say for example even Fairfax, journalists there would write for example immediately their copy is picked up Google, picked up by Facebook is distributed by them and adds a sold against those particular articles, despite the fact that Google or Facebook contributed absolutely zero to that content being created. The problem here is of course who is going to pay to create the content if somebody else steals the advertising revenue. That's a fundamental problem the Government and the media players have got to address.

FIFIELD:
Well it's an issue that's front of mind of many colleagues. And you might have seen earlier this week the Senate has established an inquiry into amongst other things the taxation arrangements that are there. Now we'll see where that leads. But I think another area where we can help in terms of Australian media organisations is another part of our package. And that is seeking to abolish one of these weird and wonderful media laws which is called the two out of three rule which stops companies getting together across multiple platforms. And what I'd like to do is to provide Australian media companies with some more options. In terms of the dance partners domestically that they can get together with. So, we hear concerns about diversity in the media, but the worst thing that could happen would be if Australian media companies ultimately failed. We want to free them up so that they can configure in ways that best support their viability which is why getting rid of the two out of three rule is important.

GREENWOOD:
Were you surprised Mitch Fifield that all of the major media players in Australia agreed to this package of reforms. Because in the past News Corporation that might have held out, or it might have been Seven West Media that held out. There were sort of different players and there were different interests at that time. It seems to be a confluence of circumstances by which they all agree at this stage?

FIFIELD:
Well I've got to give credit to the leaders of Australian media that they've been able to look beyond their legitimate organisational interests to the /poader interests of the Australian media sector. And I think that's what's happened here. That's why you've literally got Nine, Seven, Ten, Win, Prime, Southern Cross Austereo, News Limited and Fairfax all saying that the package that we've put forward should be passed in its entirety.

GREENWOOD:
Well, am I going to still get sport on my free to air television?

FIFIELD:
Oh, I don't think you need to worry about that Ross! (laughs)

GREENWOOD:
It's going to be all right? I can get the AFL, the NRL, I get the cricket, all on free to air television?

FIFIELD:
That's right, we're not touching any of the iconic Australian sporting events. They will remain on the anti-siphoning list. We're doing a little bit of trimming. And that's something that obviously subscription TV has welcomed. But the iconic events they're still on the list.

GREENWOOD:
It's going to be interesting to watch, and we hope it's not going to be another 20 years before we see significant reform, especially with the likes of the Netflix around the place and also Amazon Prime potentially becoming such significant /poadcasters globally as well.Mitch Fifield, is the Communications Minister, he's managed to do something that was not capable of being done for at least 20 years now, Mitch Fifield we appreciate your time.

FIFIELD:
Good to be with you Ross.

[ends]

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