ASTRA not ‘tweaking’ media reform legislation but will pursue later changes

The chief executive of the subscription television and radio association ASTRA has warned that fundamental elements of the media reform legislation now before the Senate remain unaddressed but that ASTRA will not try to “tweak the legislation”.

Andrew Maiden Astra

Instead, Australian Subscription Television and Radio CEO, Andrew Maiden, appears to be preparing to fight for further changes in the wake of any legislation being passed.

“I have no desire to tweak the legislation, I do have a desire though to try to introduce additional reforms that the government could pursue because reform that’s limited to cross and reach alone, as much as on its face might make sense, it would be a missed opportunity for broader change that can unlock the potential of the Australian sector,” Maiden said.

“The objective of reform is not to reward particular business models or to entrench particular incumbents, the objective of reform is to make the local content sector stronger overall, to make it grow faster and to make it more internationally competitive.

“If that’s what you believe the objective is then the reform agenda should broaden.”liveAstra_lrg

During the media reform inquiry in March, before the legislation was shelved ahead of the Federal election, Maiden warned that a “piece-meal approach” to reform that did not include anti-siphoning and taxation of overseas operators would leave sectors of the commercial market vulnerable.

However, commenting to Mumbrella yesterday, Maiden appeared to accept that ASTRA and subscription TV broadcasters would not get their way on the legislation, despite the fact it now has a second opportunity to influence its content through the new 10-week inquiry called by Labor after the legislation was passed to the Senate yesterday.

While he said ASTRA would again highlight the danger of a piece-meal approach, it appears the association is preparing to fight for separate changes after the legislation in its current form is passed.

“We’ll tell the inquiry why we believe the sector will benefit from comprehensive reforms that extend well beyond changes to cross and reach,” he told Mumbrella in a subsequent comment.

“Piece-meal changes do not serve the industry, the national interest or viewers.”

Maiden said that the industry was faced with the free-to-air broadcasters returning to Canberra “year after year” asking for more, with reach and cross-ownership removed and that they would be back again next year with more requests based on their falling revenue.

“Canberra has a choice between this kind of ‘salami approach’ where, year after year they have got to carve off another piece of public property to hand over to the free-to-airs, or instead they can look at it holistically and ask themselves what can we do to make the whole local content sector stronger, to make it grow faster and to make it more internationally competitive,” he said.

“If that’s the question then the answer is much bigger than just cross and reach.”

“The free to air networks are more mendicant than the states, they come with their begging bowl to Canberra looking every year for one more year’s favour and even if they achieve what they have set out to achieve in 2016, then we know in 2017 it will be something more.”

Maiden has again highlighted ASTRA’s central concerns over the combination of the sports anti-siphoning list, the ability of overseas companies to operate in Australia without contributing to local content requirements and the restrictions on digital broadcasting are all still needing to be addressed.

“The public have been duped. The (anti-siphoning) scheme does not guarantee that sport will be free and it doesn’t guarantee that free to air rights holders will broadcast what they buy,” he said.

Update: Friday, 4.15pm

Andrew Maiden has further clarified his comment saying ASTRA would now  call for the media reform process to be put on hold until a more complete package can be negotiated taking in issues beyond reach and cross ownership.

In a statement to Mumbrella Maiden said media reform now needed to be put on hold.

“The legislation before parliament addresses cross and reach, but they are just a part of the reform story,” Maiden said.

“While the legislation does what the government claims, we believe the Government must go further if it sincerely wants to unlock innovation and growth in the sector.

“True media reform must be wide-ranging, and deal with the many other issues that remain outstanding.

“After all, the same factors cited to support reform to cross and reach also apply to many other broadcasting issues.

“For instance, free-to-air broadcasters must use only the spectrum they need, and they must pay market prices for it.

“And the rigged market for sports rights must also be addressed.

“We believe the Government should put the current legislation on hold so these other issues can be joined to the debate.”


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