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The devil in the detail: The deals the government made to get media reforms across the line

The government’s success in the Senate last night in abolishing broadcasting restrictions came at a cost, with over $70m in concessions to One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team.

A $10m scheme for cadet journalists, a $50m media innovation fund and $12m to support community radio stations are the main ticket items agreed to by the government along with an ACCC inquiry into Facebook and Google’s powers and changes to the ABC’s charter.

Nick Xenophon Team campaign picture

The Nick Xenophon Team’s deal will see the government create two schemes – a $10m program for 200 cadet journalist positions and a regional and small publishers innovation fund that will give out $16.7m a year over three years.

Publishers with an annual turnover between $300,000 and $30m in revenue will be eligible for a maximum of $1 million per year. Larger publishers are ineligible.

The innovation fund will explicitly exclude salaries, but will cover equipment and capital costs to assist small publishers to “transition, compete and innovate more successfully in a changing media environment,” as an NXT media release stated.

Overseeing the programs will be the responsibility of  Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with input from the Australian Press Council, the Walkley Foundation and Country Press Australia, Xenophon said at a press conference yesterday.

Xenophon gave scant detail of the terms of reference of the planned ACCC investigation into Facebook and Google beyond saying he had spoken to the regulator – however the Senator described the online services as “an existential threat” and being similar to the rail and oil ‘robber barons’ of the past.

Xenophon also indicated he sees tax surcharges and strengthened copyright laws as being part of the curbs placed on Google and Facebook’s market power.

The Senator also indicated he supports One Nation’s agreement, which includes a $12m package for community radio, describing it as “huge for regional communities”.

Community television will get a six month license extension through until 30 June 2018 with the Government holding a roundtable discussion on the sector’s future.

Unfortunately for One Nation, Xenophon repeated his insistence that the party’s demands to reform the ABC’s charter and conduct a inquiry into the government broadcaster won’t be supported. Despite the likelihood their demands will not be agreed to by the Parliament, One Nation voted for the government’s package.

Along with changes to market reach rules, there will be changes to the anti-siphoning rules which were previously indicated. Coupled with the subsidies to Foxtel for women’s sport, the pay-TV sector comes away with some wins.

The Nick Xenophon Team’s amendments passed yesterday which slightly increase local coverage requirements means the bill has to go back to the House of Representatives before it becomes law sometime later this year, however the Senator sees the changes making a difference to Australia’s media landscape.

“This will make a real difference for journalism in this country, if we value journalism and our democracy,” Xenophon concluded. “I have done my level best to try and redress the crisis that journalism is facing in this country over a number of years.”

This article has been updated following a media release from the NXT Party which clarified a number of the innovation fund’s aspects.

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