Australia Proposes New Media Laws to Parliament


SYDNEY: The Australian government is pushing ahead with legislation that would change media-ownership laws, reform that is being welcomed by Ten Network but rebuffed by Seven.

The legislation introduced into the Parliament would abolish what is known as the 75 percent audience-reach rule, which prevents anyone from owning or controlling television licenses that reach more than 75 percent of the Australian population. The legislation would also abolish the so-called “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 license area.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield called it the “most significant media reform in Australian media in a generation. It’s a package that’s important for media organizations, it’s good news for consumers and it’s particularly good news for consumers in regional areas.”

Fifield argues that there will be new and higher local content protections as a result. “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 centers 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.”

Tim Worner, the managing director and CEO of Seven West Media, has lashed out at the plan. “Media-ownership changes might be great for the deal junkies out there but they are not going to ensure a strong future for Australian film and television production,” he said. “You won’t see one more minute of local content as a result of these changes, in fact you will probably see a lot less, especially in regional Australia. It’s disappointing that the Government has not walked the talk when it says it wants to focus on innovation and the future.”

However, Ten Network’s chief executive, Paul Anderson, is in favor of the changes. He said: “Removing these archaic media laws is an important first step in dismantling a set of rules that are making Australian media companies less competitive in a global, converged media market.

“Ten Network is now competing directly for viewers and advertisers against large, global internet companies that are exempt from local media regulation, don’t pay television license fees, pay minimal corporate tax despite taking billions in advertising revenue in this market, and in some cases don’t have a single local employee.

“Meanwhile, we pay the highest broadcasting tax in the world on top of our normal corporate taxes and we are held back by media ownership rules that don’t even recognize the existence of the internet,” he said.

“We welcome the Minister’s comments about addressing the onerous television license fee regime.

“Addressing television license fees and updating media laws are essential if we want to see a vibrant, diverse and competitive Australian media industry going forward. These changes are critical and urgent if we want to retain local voices in our media and a local content production industry.”