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Press Conference Parliament House

FIFIELD:

Well Network Ten's announcement today that it will enter voluntary administration is a wake-up call for opponents of media reform. Today is a day to pause and think of the staff of the Ten Network. And I think we should all be concerned that a major Australian media organisation is facing these challenges and these difficulties.

The government has consistently warned for some time that Australian media organisations are facing challenges, are facing new competitors and that they need to be unshackled from the laws and regulations that were crafted in the 1980's.

The response of the Opposition, has consistently been, over the last 18 months, to seek to thwart and delay the media reforms that the Coalition has in the Parliament. Tomorrow the Government will be introducing, into the House of Representatives, comprehensive and holistic media reform that was announced in the Budget. And the intention is to give Australian media organisations a fighting chance.

This package is unabashedly pro Australian media. We want to have good strong Australian media voices. That is what the package is all about. That is why we will be seeking to abolish TV licence fees, which were designed in the late 1950's for a world that no longer exists. That is why we will be putting in its place a more modest spectrum charge. And it's why we will be seeking to remove the outdated media ownership laws which were crafted in the 1980's. Things like the two out of three rule. Which the Ten Network has consistently said would give them greater freedom, more options, as to how they can configure their business and would help them improve their viability. Things like the abolition of the 75% audience reach rule.

We have an historic media package that has the support of the entire media sector. It has the support of Ten, Nine, Seven, Win, Prime, Southern Cross Austereo, News Limited, Fairfax, ASTRA, Commercial Radio Australia and Free TV. This is the package that the industry wants. This is the package that the industry says can help their viability, can help their longevity, and be a shot in the arm for their competitiveness.

I urge my colleagues in the Senate to support this package in its entirety. But I particularly call upon the Australian Labor Party to put aside gamesmanship. To put aside playing the angles. These are real businesses. And these are real jobs for Australians. We want to do whatever we can to help ensure the viability of Australian media businesses. And the Ten Network should be a wakeup call for opponents of media reform. The Ten Network has been at the forefront of those arguing, over the last 18 months, that we need precisely the sort of media reform package that the Government is putting to the Parliament.

JOURNALIST:

Senator Fifield would these media reforms have prevented Ten from ending up where they are now and could they actually help them turn things around?

FIFIELD:

Well if you talk to Paul Anderson, the Chief Executive of the Ten Network, he has been saying for more than 18 months that media law needs to be reformed. And that that would have given the Ten Network more options. More options as to how it can configure and support its viability.

JOURNALIST:

Regarding the Crossbench, have you have the support, do you believe of the One Nation Party and Nick Xenophon to actually get these reforms through?

FIFIELD:

Well we are continuing good and constructive discussions with the crossbench. And I have got to commend the Senate crossbench. We have achieved some really good outcomes with them over the course of this Parliament. This was a Parliament that they said wouldn't work. It is working. And good propositions have enjoyed the support of the crossbench previously. So those discussion continue.Whenever we talk about the crossbench there's a risk of letting the Australian Labor Party off the hook. The Australian Labor Party present themselves as the alternative government of Australia. They present themselves as a major party concerned about the national interest. They present themselves as a Party that wants to govern. Well the practical demonstration of the Australian Labor Party accepting its responsibilities as a major party, would be to support this package in full.

JOURNALIST:

The prime blockage to date in the Senate crossbench has been One Nation. Nick Xenophon has got what he asked. What are you prepared to give One Nation for the support of this package through the Senate?

FIFIELD:

Well I find as a Minister and also as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, it is good practice for me not to seek to comment on behalf of the Senate crossbench. We are having good discussions. Those will continue. My objective is to secure the numbers for this package as a whole.

JOURNALIST:

How long will this package be in the House for? When will it go to the Senate?

FIFIELD:

Well the package went through our Party Room earlier this week. It will be introduced into the House or Representatives tomorrow. And it will come to the Senate next week.  

JOURNALIST:

Would you be prepared to the diversity of voices or in fact the loss of diversity of voices. Isn't that a valid concern when we have heard a lot of discussions about media companies potentially merging under these changes to the rules? Wouldn't it have a harmful effect on Australia's media?

FIFIELD:

Well the greatest threat to the diversity of the Australian media, would be an Australian media organisation that didn't continue, that went out of business. That's the greatest threat to diversity of Australian media. What this package is about is providing a shot in the arm for Australian media. It's about unshackling them. It's about giving them a fighting chance to take on their competitors. We can talk about abstract concepts of diversity. And we can talk about laws that were crafted in the 1980's to protect diversity before the internet existed. But the internet does exist. It is providing more diverse sources of information for the community. But the greatest threat to Australian media diversity would be an Australian media organisation that didn't continue.

And we also should remember that there are protections for diversity that will continue. The one to a market TV rule that means that a crowd can only have one TV licence in a market. The two to a market radio rule. That means that a crowd can only have two radio licences in a market. The five four or voices rule that means there have got to be five independent media voices in a metropolitan area, and four independent media voices in a regional area. Plus we have still got the ACCC competition ruler that would need to be run over things.

So there remain important protections for diversity. But we want to unshackle Australian media organisations so they have got more options as to how they can configure themselves. And how they can be viable long into the future,

JOURNALIST:

Do you believe that there is a real prospect that if Channel Ten can't be sold or recapitalise, that the administrators will just return the licence to the government and effectively go blank and we are left with two free to air commercial TV stations. Is that the sort of prospect that could happen here?

FIFIELD:

Well the administers of the Ten Network have made clear that they will be working closely with the management, staff and content providers, as they undertake commercial, financial assessments of the organisation. Their objective is to continue, as much as possible, on a business as usual basis.

JOURNALIST:

But do you have concerns though, that that might not be possible?

FIFIELD:

Well Network Ten is now in the hands of the administrators. What I can do is seek to secure passage of our media reform package. So that Network Ten and other Australian media organisations, who all support this package, are in the strongest possible position they can be.

JOURNALIST:

Minister would you be prepared to split the bill if that is the only way to get parts of it through?

FIFIELD:

Well this is a holistic package. It's a comprehensive package. It's a package that enjoys the support of the entire Australian media industry. I am a Minister who thinks it's a good idea to listen to those who run Australian media businesses. They are in the best position to know what is in the interests of their businesses for the long term. So I am not attracted at all to seeing a bill, that enjoys the support of the whole sector and that is comprehensive, being carved up.

JOURNALIST:

Even if it means the difference between Channel Ten living or going under, isn't it better to split the bill?

FIFIELD:

Well one of the key elements which is in contention, thanks to the Australian Labor Party, is the two out of three rule. Network Ten is at the forefront of arguing that it is an outdated law, that is an outdated rule,that should be consigned to history. Network Ten is at the forefront of those arguing being unshackled in that way gives them more options.

JOURNALIST:

Senator is the timing of this convenient for you? That Network Ten has gone into administration just as you are introducing the bill to Parliament?

FIFIELD:

The Government took this decision in relation to the package in the budget, it was announced the weekend before the budget. Business decisions for shareholders of Ten are a matter for them. But I don't think there is anyone who cares about Australian media, who is pleased that a significant Australian media organisation is placed into administration.

JOURNALIST:

Minister a number of commercial media companies have complained about the ABC's aggressive chasing of the digital audiences. One Nation has indicated that it would like to see ABC funding cut as part of these negotiations. Would the government consider either cutting the ABC's remit, or cutting the ABC's funding in order to secure this package?

FIFIELD:

Well the ABC's funding was laid out the budget before last, on a triennial basis, so the funding for the ABC has been established.

JOURNALIST:

This legislation is often portrayed in a very technical way. Media reform, the two out of three reach rule, but in actual fact this is about democracy and freedom of speech, and overseas players like Facebook and YouTube are eating businesses for lunch, and taking business away from journalists, people like us, people at Channel Ten. Is that how you see it? And do you think there needs to be more of a focus on these overseas players who are trying to destroy journalism in Australia?

FIFIELD:

Well the Australian media industry is facing unprecedented competition from platforms and formats which were not in conception when these media laws where introduced. That's why we are seeking to do our bit to unshackle Australian media organisations. To help their viability so they are in a much stronger position to compete with the internet based platforms and the over the top providers.This is ultimately not about obscure sounding media rules. This ultimately is about one of the fundamental underpinnings of our democracy. Those of us in the Parliament may not always like what it is that journalists write and post and blog and stream. But what journalists do, what Australian media does, is one of the important underpinnings of our democracy. And we want to see strong Australian media voices continue.

JOURNALIST:

I just want to clarify your position on not splitting the bill. Are you saying you are actually not going to split the bill if you are encountering opposition in the Senate on two out of three? You are just not going to do that? Is that what you are saying it is all or nothing?

FIFIELD:

It's a good package. It's a comprehensive package. It is a package that has the support of every major Australian media organisation. And I will be arguing, and arguing that it be supported in its entirety.  Thanks very much.

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