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

Press Conference on Media Reform

1 March 2016

E & OE

Subjects: media reform

FIFIELD:
This morning the Coalition Joint Party Room agreed with the Cabinet recommendation that legislation for media reform be introduced into the Parliament. This package will represent the most significant media reform in Australia in a generation. It's a package that's important for media organisations, it's good news for consumers and it's particularly good news for consumers in regional areas.

As you all know the media laws that we have were drafted in an analogue world for an analogue world. Technology is affording consumers new options as to how they consume their media, and existing laws no longer represent the world that we live in. And bit by bit technology and consumer choice are rendering those laws increasingly redundant. The laws are also increasingly constraining the capacity of media organisations to configure themselves in ways that are right for the needs of their consumers. The current laws were well intentioned, they were designed to provide and ensure diversity of media in a world where there weren't many options.

The legislation that will be introduced into the Parliament will abolish what's known as the 75% audience reach rule, which prevents anyone from owning or controlling television licences which reach more than 75% of the Australian population. The legislation will also abolish what's known as the '2 out of 3' rule which prevents anyone from owning or controlling more than two out of three of the regulated traditional platforms of print, radio and TV in a radio licence area.

Now one of the arguments, one of the many arguments, that's been put forward for media reform has been by regional TV broadcasters who say that they need the freedom to configure themselves in the ways that are right for their business and that in so doing they will be more viable – and therefore more able – to provide local content. Now whenever you're talking about changes to media law, people who live in regional areas have a genuine and legitimate interest in local content and its protection.

So as part of the package that I'll be introducing into the Parliament, we will be introducing new and higher local content protections after a trigger event. So in an aggregated TV licence area, when as a result of reconfiguration or changes in ownership or control, TV licences having excess of 75% nationwide audience reach, the new and higher protections for local content will come into place six months after the trigger event.

At the moment, regional providers in the aggregated areas need to ensure 720 points of local content over a six week period. After a trigger event, six months after a trigger event, we will be requiring 900 points of local content over a six week period.
We will also be introducing, for major population centres in non-aggregated areas, for the first time, local area content requirements. So, six months after a trigger event in major population areas in non-aggregated markets there will be a requirement for 360 points of local area content.

So new and higher local content provisions in aggregated markets after a trigger event, and new local content requirements for the first time for major population centres in non-aggregated areas.

We will also be producing some changes to the points system. At the moment, in these areas you get one point for each minute of local content in a licence area. At the moment you get two points – double points if you like – for news content that's relevant to the local area. We'll be introducing a new category of points; three points for material that is relevant to the local area, that is broadcast into the local area, but that also includes local footage from the area. So three points for that. That is intended to work as an incentive for broadcasters to have a presence that's local so that they can produce local content.

I should indicate that this has been a very good process in terms of the consultation that I've had with media organisations and also with my colleagues. I should acknowledge the former Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, and the work that he did tilling the soil. He's someone who's long been an advocate of the need to reform media law. Dean Smith, who is the chair of the Government Communications and Arts committee, also should be acknowledged for being a long term advocate of change, and someone who's been a good steward for the internal processes of the Party. And also, Fiona Nash, my portfolio colleague who, as minister for regional communications, has also had important and significant input into this process.

In summary, this is good news for the media industry, it's good news for consumers, and it's particularly good news for regional consumers.

JOURNALIST:
Senator Fifield, why are there no changes to the anti-siphoning legislation in this package, and does that mean that there won't be any changes to that list in the foreseeable future?

FIFIELD:
Changes to the anti-siphoning regime aren't part of this package. It's well known, I think that there are strong views on the part of those organisations who would like the anti-siphoning regime to remain much as it is, and strong views on the part of those who think that the anti-siphoning regime should be substantially changed.

I think there are a few misconceptions about the anti-siphoning regime. One is that the anti-siphoning list mandates that free to airs need to acquire certain events. It doesn't. I think that there is a misunderstanding that the anti-siphoning list requires free to airs, if they acquire events, to broadcast them. It doesn't. The anti-siphoning list doesn't even prevent free-to-airs from purchasing the events and then on-selling them to subscription TV. So I think there are some things which aren't fully appreciated about how the list actually operates.

I don't think anyone, not even those who are the strongest advocates of changing the anti-siphoning list, would propose that the AFL, the NRL, the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games or the Australian Open, for instance would be removed from that list. The list has changed over time. There have been events that have come onto it. There have been events that have come off it. Anti-siphoning isn't part of this package. If there was to be change to the list, or any meaningful change to the list in the future, it's something that I think would need to enjoy the broad support of the Parliament.

JOURNALIST:
Senator, would you look at anti-siphoning changes after the election, and on another aspect of the current regime, there's no change to the 5/4 voices clause. A quick check suggests that that still applies to very traditional media outlets. Isn't there a case for change in the 5/4 voices rule, because we now have so many online voices that we didn't have when these laws were first drafted?

FIFIELD:
Look there are some media organisations who clearly would've liked the Government to remove all five of the media rules or media laws. What we've done is to put forward the abolition of the two rules where there seems to be the broadest consensus that they've had their use-by-date well and truly passed.

On the other hand, there are several organisations and people in the community who still maintain concerns about diversity. And for people who have those concerns, we can direct them to the 5/4 rule, we can direct them to the 'one-to-a-market' rule for TV, we can direct them to the 'two-to-a-market' rule for radio, and we can also direct them to the ACCC provisions which remain in place. So we've taken an approach that we think would enjoy broad support. But nevertheless I don't think we should underestimate the significance of the changes that are proposed here.

JOURNALIST:
Would anti-siphoning be addressed next year?

FIFIELD:
Anti-siphoning is not part of this package. If anti-siphoning needs to be addressed I think it needs to enjoy broad support in the Parliament.

JOURNALIST:
Minister, how confident are you that this legislation will pass the Parliament? Have you secured the support of the crossbench?

FIFIELD:
Look, I've kept Jason Clare in touch with what we've been doing and what we've been thinking, that two-out-of-three and reach was what we had in prospect to remove, and that we would be looking to have new protections for local content. Jason's been upfront about his support for removing the 75% audience reach rule. He's been upfront that they have an open mind on the two-out-of-three rule. I've also been in ongoing contact with numbers of the crossbench. I think it's fair to say, obviously I don't want to speak for them, they'll speak for themselves, but they have an open mind, and they recognise that the media rules that we have are increasingly out of date.

JOURNALIST:
Minister, what about TV licence fee relief, is that going to be in the Budget, secondly will this be enough to save Fairfax holdings?

FIFIELD:
Well, the prospects of any individual media organisation I'll leave to the individual media organisations to comment upon themselves. But in relation to the licence fees, we have indicated that free to air TV licence fees, and also commercial radio licence fees, they will be looked at in the context of this Budget. I'm on the record as having recognised the arguments of free to airs and commercial radio that these licence fees were established in the late 1950s, at a time when TV and radio essentially had a monopoly. They were the only form of electronic media.

The second reading speech that saw licence fees introduced back then, didn't use this language but it was words to the effect of "this is a super-profits tax". Obviously the environment in which commercial radio and TV operate now has changed dramatically. They face a challenging environment. They have a lot of competitors. So we've undertaken to look at it in the context of the Budget. Obviously I can't give you an indication one way or the other. But we've made that undertaking and that's what we'll do.

JOURNALIST:
Senator Fifield, if they pay those licence fees for the use of a public asset – being the spectrum that they are able to use to get to their viewers – if they're given relief on the licence fees, should they be willing to be more flexible in the way that they use that public asset, the spectrum?

FIFIELD:
Well there are two things. There's the licence fees and there's the pricing arrangements of broadcast spectrum. And I think it's reasonable to look at those in tandem.

JOURNALIST:
Senator Fifield, the third point you brought in – the three point system – is that an admission that the current two point system is being abused by networks that are centralising a hub and then broadcasting to regional areas with just news that is basically rip-and-read?

FIFIELD:
Did you have any particular broadcasters in mind?

JOURNALIST:
None at all.

FIFIELD:
Look there are some broadcasters who are in excess of the 720 points over a six week period that's required, that are well in excess of that. There are others who satisfy their licence obligations. What the new points arrangement, what the new, higher thresholds are about, is recognising and taking at face value the arguments of regional broadcasters, that if they reconfigure and they have scale, they're in a better position to provide local content. We accept that argument. Therefore it is reasonable to set a new and higher baseline for local content.

JOURNALIST:
Has there been interest to take up that offer?

FIFIELD:
Well the discussions that we've had with the regional broadcasters indicate that most of them are comfortable with that arrangement.

JOURNALIST:
Are the Nationals happy with the arrangement that you've put forward now, the 900 points?

FIFIELD:
Well as I say, this has been a really good process. I've made sure that my colleagues, Liberal and National, have been a part of the process from the outset. So it's been a good discussion. I've benefited from the contributions of both Liberal and National colleagues. So there's broad consensus and strong support in the Coalition Party Room for this package.

JOURNALIST:
Senator Fifield, as you say the reach is pretty uncontroversial, but there's still a lot of debate around two-of-three, I believe it will go to an enquiry, but looking down the track to when push comes to shove, will the two live-or-die together, or are you willing to separate the two out to get what is achievable in the senate?

FIFIELD:
We will be introducing this package into the House of Representatives tomorrow. It's my intention that the Senate Selection of Bills Committee, which determines which bills go to Senate Committees, that as a government we would self-refer the whole package to the Senate Communications and Environment committee for enquiry. It's important that it's looked at as a whole package. And it's my intention to secure passage of this as a package.

JOURNALIST:
When do you intend to pass this legislation, before or after the election?

FIFIELD:
Well I am aiming to have this legislation passed through the Parliament before the election.

JOURNALIST:
Minister, can you run us through the thinking behind the two tiers of local content. Is this only one hour a week for these new areas? Why is that?

FIFIELD:
Well at the moment there's no requirement for local content in the non-aggregated areas. So this was an opportunity, should there be a trigger event in major population centres in the non-aggregated areas, to put in place for the first time, some local content requirements. So obviously there are different economics at play in the aggregated areas to some of the non-aggregated areas. So this is a recognition of that. So we'll have a 900 point requirement in the aggregated areas and a 360 point requirement in major population centres. And I think that will be very well received.

JOURNALIST:
When will you be talking to crossbench senators, about any concerns they may have on the removal or repeal of the two-out-of-three rule. Do you think you've got a majority of the crossbenchers behind this reform yet? What are your chances of getting it?

FIFIELD:
Look, I'm hopeful of the Australian Labor Party. But obviously I work with all of my colleagues. I don't take any of them for granted. I wouldn't dare to speak on behalf of my crossbench colleagues and how they tally. But discussions today have been good, and they recognise the media laws are redundant, and there's been a positive response so far but further discussions ahead.

JOURNALIST:
Minister, are there enough women's events on the anti-siphoning list?

FIFIELD:
Are there enough women's events on the anti-siphoning list? Well it depends whether you want them on the anti-siphoning list or not. I haven't done a breakdown of the events. But if you look at the Commonwealth Games, for example, that's men's and women's events. If you look the Olympic Games, that's men's and women's events. If you look at the Australian Open that's men's and women's events. Obviously you have some gender-specific codes like NRL and AFL and you have some others that women are particularly engaged with.

JOURNALIST:
What about the US Open? And the Aussies hardly get to the final rounds these days in the tennis, so why is that on the list?

FIFIELD:
Well the list is what the list is. Because that's how the list has developed over time. You ask one side of the debate and they'll say there should probably be more on, and you ask the other side of the debate and they'll say there should be less on it. But obviously in relation to women's events, TV subscription businesses would argue that they shouldn't be there, and in fact no-one should be there on the list.

JOURNALIST:
News [Corp] have been very keen on getting action on anti-siphoning, are you prepared for a backlash from those newspapers?

FIFIELD:
Look we're taking our decisions in what we think is the public interest. My discussions with all media organisations have been cordial and professional. And we've made sure that they've had good input into this process and that they're not surprised by what the outcome is.

Media contact: Justine Sywak | 0448 448 487 | Justine.Sywak@communications.gov.au

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