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Fifield retains Communications portfolio as pressure builds to act on media reform

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has chosen to retain Mitch Fifield as Communications minister.

Fifield: Why retain a rule that pretends the Internet doesn’t exist?

The decision to retain Fifield in the Communications portfolio comes after speculation that the portfolio might have been given to the National Party, after it increased its number of MPs following the election.

Fifield’s reinstatement comes at key time when, for many in the media industry, pressure is building on the government to act on the proposed media reform legislation which was before the Senate when the double dissolution election was called. 

Passing that legislation may be a challenge if Labor choses to try to block the abolition of the ‘two out of three’ rule, potentially leaving the government in a situation where it may need to deal with a mixed cross bench of Senators, including Pauline Hanson, Derryn Hinch and Jacqui Lambie.

In the past 12 months, the regional media players have been smashed by what Prime Media’s CEO Ian Audsley describes as a “drought” in the form of major structural change that is moving revenue away from them.

Audsley appearing before the Senate in March.

Audsley appearing before the Senate in March

“It is fair to say that in a drought it is the edges of the lake that dry up first,” Audsley told a Senate committee, in March. “In the television ‘lake’ regional broadcasters are at the extremities of the lake.

“That drought has hit us already… The structural change has hit us substantially,” he explained, noting that when he appeared previously before the Senate in 2013 his business was worth more than $350m.

As of June 30 Prime Media was worth just $120m and the SMI data, which reports media agency spend, showed revenues in regional TV down 7.3%, year-on-year, for May.

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