Ex-deputy PM Tim Fischer says ‘watch this space’ as he fronts new media reform push

Former deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer has said he is confident there can be media reform under the Coalition government, as he fronts the next stage of regional TV network’s ad campaign to repeal the reach rule.

Fischer is backing the next phase of the ‘Save Our Voices’ campaign by Prime, WIN, Southern Cross Austereo and Imparja, urging regional viewers to lobby for a change to ownership rules to allow metropolitan and regional networks to merge.

Asked whether he believed the government, which has stalled on a decision to remove ownership restrictions, Fischer told Mumbrella: “Watch this space. I am confident that there will be some movement at the station.”

Both Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull have said they want “consensus” among the major media owners before they introduce reforms to laws which affect ownership and how much of the population media networks can reach.

Rival Seven West Media along with News Corp are both opposing reform with Kerry Stokes’ Seven even going so far as to launch its own TV campaign opposing reform, which has aired in central Queensland.

“Everywhere we look, regional voices are being cut back – at the three main regional networks, but also through cuts at the ABC and among Australia’s many independent regional and rural newspapers,” said Fischer.

“Local news and information is vitally important, and it must be protected and preserved if regional and rural Australia is to continue to have a voice.”

The Australian reports Prime Media chairman John Hartigan and WIN Corporation CEO Andrew Lancaster are ­expected in Canberra today to lobby Coalition MPs and crossbench senators on removing legislation around the reach rule which is blocking potential mergers between the networks.

Asked about his role in the ad and the wider campaign Fischer noted: “I am not a lobbyist per se, I am a constructive conversationalist and in the course of any fortnight I will see a lot of good people who are plugged in.”

It understood while Fischer has been paid a fee to appear in the ad, it will be donated to charities.

The latest assault in the ad campaign began airing last night, after being launched last month with the recent closures of newsrooms in regional Australia cited as part of the reason for reform.

In May, the WIN Network announced the closure of two regional newsrooms in Victoria and Queensland, suggesting it was not commercially viable to continue operating them.

Challenged about the time frame for media reform and whether Stokes’ opposition presented a major hurdle for the regional TV networks Fischer said: “We will have to see how it unfolds… it is too early to say.

“The fundamental position for this government is to be in favour of deregulation.”

The war of words erupted last week after billionaire Bruce Gordon pulled WIN out of the free-to-air television industry’s lobby group Free TV, after disputes between the various TV networks over the campaign.

The current laws prevent one commercial broadcaster from reaching more than 75 per cent of the population, with the regional TV networks noting the ABC already does this and criticise a recent push by Seven into live video streaming of their channels online which Prime, WIN and SCA claims undermines the media laws.

Nic Christensen 


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