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

PVO NewsDay with Peter van Onselen Sky News Studio Canberra

29 August 2017

PVO:

American broadcaster CBS will have to convince creditors, courts and indeed the Foreign Investment Review Board that its bid for Network 10 is the best deal for the company, and indeed for Australia.  The US broadcasting giant announced it has reached a deal to acquire Ten’s business and assets after the network went into receivership.  Media analysts believe that, in the short term at least, it will be business as usual for Channel Ten.

(cuts to clip)

A lot of the content that we already see on Ten, things like NCIS for instance, will carry on being there because it already has that in common with CBS in the US. I suppose one gradual change that you may see it if you look at CBS’s content, it probably skews slightly older in the US, so in time we might see more feed grow.

PVO:

The deal came as a bit of a surprise it has to be said, with many expecting the Australian media moguls Lachlan Murdoch and Bruce Gordon were more likely to snap up the network.  CBS has also announced that it will bring its subscription on demand video service to Australia.  And to discuss this as well as wider media reform I am joined now by the Communications Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield live from Canberra.  Senator thanks very much for your company.  I know there is only so much you can say obviously in specifics in terms of Channel Ten because it is an ongoing transaction.  But I guess the big question that people are wondering about is what, if any, are the avenues by which this deal has been announced might not actually become a deal.  Is the main one the challenge Foreign Investment Review Board?

FIFIELD:

Peter the receivers and administrators have said that they have accepted the offer by CBS.  Obviously this is still subject to shareholder approval.  And there could well be a range of regulatory processes.  And it is my practice not to comment on prospective regulatory processes.  But I welcome any proposition that will see the Ten Network stable, secure, broadcasting and employing journalists.

PVO:

But if you welcome any outcome that can lead to that, that would mean, I guess by definition, that you welcome the CBS outcome.  Irrespective of it being a foreign business stepping in, because it has done exactly what you are out to welcome.

FIFIELD:

The Ten Network wants stability, they want security.  All of the staff - the journalists, the production people, the people in sales and marketing - at the Ten Network, want surety. And just referencing the media reform package that the Government has in the Parliament, that’s all about wanting to support the long term viability of domestic Australian media organisations.  So the sooner that the Ten Network can get onto a footing where they know what their future will be, the better.

PVO:

Alright and I want to get into the wider media reforms in some detail in a moment.  Just one last one on Channel Ten, are there any risks, I know that there are some regulatory rules that preclude some risks.  But do you have any concerns about an American owned company stepping in and taking over one of our three free to air broadcasters in relation to the balance between local content and overseas content.  As I say I know there are already rules that mandate a certain amount of local content, but does that give you pause for thought.

FIFIELD:

Well whoever owns Australian TV stations is subject to local content requirements.  And it’s interesting to observe that the highest rating programs across the networks tend to be Australian programs.  So I think whoever owns Network Ten, we can be assured that the regulatory arrangements that mandate certain local content requirements will still be there, and still be in force. And the evidence is that Australians love and want to tune into Australian product.

PVO:

Now there is no secret in the fact that Lachlan Murdoch and Bruce Gordon both were looking at buying Channel Ten between them in varying forms, and the two elements of media reform that were most likely were required for that to happen were changes to the reach rule, the 75% reach rule as well as the two out of three.  That affected each one of them in turn if you like.  How important is that you hold the industry together Senator in favour of the broad arching reforms.  And how likely is it that they will stay together now that the Ten sale, or assuming that the Ten sale goes through.

FIFIELD:

Neither the industry, nor the government, have ever seen this media reform package as about the Ten Network.  Yes the Ten Network have been at the forefront of arguing for media reform.  But, then again, so has Seven, Nine, WIN, Prime, Southern Cross Austereo, Fairfax and News Limited for that matter. So this package has never been about one network.  All the reasons that we need media reform are as valid today as they were yesterday, and the day before.

PVO:

On that question Senator, if I could just jump in, put differently the question is are you certain that these big players who have been supporters of media reform, unanimously so in the mainstream media, will all continue to be supporters of it once Channel Ten is purchased by CBS.  Or does self-interest take one or two of them out and then we land in that position we were with the previous package, is that it is like herding cats to get the media together on media reform.

FIFIELD:

Australia’s media organisations are still in favour of getting rid of the two out of three rule.  They are still in favour of getting rid of the 75% audience reach rule.  They are still in favour of effective tax cuts in the form of licence fee reductions for commercial radio and commercial TV.  They are still in favour of sensible modernisation of the anti-siphoning arrangements.  There is a lot in this package for the industry as a whole.  And the industry still want it to pass.

PVO:

Alright so the industry still want the package, what about the politicians.  Do you still have concerns that, for example, Senator Xenophon will be less likely to give in, in some areas as will One Nation potentially now that they don’t have the, if you like emergency settings, of trying to get it done in time for a possible takeover of Channel Ten.

FIFIELD:

The crossbench colleagues that I have been dealing with have always recognised that the media reform package is something that is important in the short, the medium and the long term. As you referenced One Nation, we have agreement with them to support the package.  I am still having good discussions with Nick Xenophon who recognises the need for these reforms.

But Peter the most disappointing thing in all of this has been the Australian Labor Party.  From the outset they have opposed this media reform package. They pay lip service to some elements of the package.  But in the House of Representatives they voted against the package in its entirety. So I always say, don’t listen to what Bill Shorten says, look at what he does.  

But yesterday was truly bizarre, Bill Shorten cited the announcement by the administrators and receivers in relation to Channel Ten as a reason why the media reform package is no longer needed.  The rest of the media sector are still facing challenges.  Those haven’t gone away.  And what they tell me, day after day, is that they want the greatest flexibility possible to choose who it is that they combine with, to look at the dance partners who they might be able to get together with to improve the viability of their businesses.  And our proposed media ownership changes are intended to give a bit more flexibility in that regard.

PVO:

Well just on that, let’s burrow into that a little bit.  Bill Shorten, as you say yesterday, his argument seemed to be look greater diversity now in the Australian media with CBS coming in.  And ‘proof here’ that there isn’t the challenge that the Government would like to suggest for the media sector, because look you have another party that has bought into Channel Ten without all those changes being required in relation to media reforms.  

Is your point Senator basically when you look at the growth and the challenges in disruption for all the other media challenges, they are still there.  So those other organisations continue to be financially challenged, indeed to be challenged by the disruptors in the industry.  Is that your answer to Bill Shorten?

FIFIELD:

Absolutely, Bill Shorten is the best friend that Google and Facebook and Netflix have had.  Now none of us have an issue with those particular businesses. But, it’s a fact that they are competing with Australian media organisations of long standing.  What the Government wants to do is to give Australian media organisations a fighting change, and a shot in the arm to level the playing field for this vigorous competition.  Bill Shorten’ s answer is “neh, well I don’t really care”.  He does not have an interest in strong Australian media voices.  This Government does.  And that’s what our package is all about.

PVO:

And just one final one for you if I can Senator.  Any chance from here that the package is more likely now to be broken up.  I remember you have been very resolute on this, very strong.  It’s the whole thing or its nothing, it goes as one, that is why the media sector supports it.  Post the Ten deal, that is not the be all and end all of media reform, I couldn’t agree with you more on that versus what Labor was saying yesterday.  But what about the idea that you might break up the package now?  Any chance of that?

FIFIELD:

It’s a comprehensive package.  It enjoys the support of the entire media industry.  I am not looking to slice it up.  And, indeed, crossbench colleagues, who I have had good discussions with, they are not asking for things to be hived off it from it.  They have some ideas about some additional things. So look, I’m open to additions, but I am not in the business of slicing this package up.

PVO:

Senator Mitch Fifield thanks we appreciate you joining us.  Thanks for your company on NewsDay.

FIFIELD:

Thanks very much Peter.

[ends]

Back to top