Free TV appoints public policy veteran ahead of new prominence framework

Free TV Australia has appointed SBS Australia’s Michael Coonan to head up the industry body’s regulatory affairs as director of public policy.

With an extensive background in government affairs, Coonan takes on the newly created role as Free TV Australia prepares to navigate the proposed amendments to prominence and anti-siphoning laws currently under review by the Senate.

Having spent more than seven years at SBS as the public broadcaster’s head of regulatory and government affairs and five years before that managing broadcasting policy and corporate affairs at Foxtel, Coonan has a strong understanding of the television landscape and expertise in the areas of local content, prominence, privacy, and spectrum regulation.

He is also the current vice president of the Australian Chapter of the International Institute of Communications and has previously held a number of roles at the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Free TV CEO Bridget Fair said Coonan’s experience would be “invaluable” as the industry body continues “navigate the evolving media landscape and advocate for the interests of our members and audiences”.

“Michael joins us at a critical time for the future of television in Australia and the ability of all Australians to share in the moments that bring us together as a nation,” Fair said.

“The immediate focus for Free TV is ensuring free local television services are available and easy to access on connected TVs, and that all Australians can continue to access free sports broadcasts through the Communications Legislation Amendment (Prominence and Anti-Siphoning) Bill 2023 which is currently the subject of a Senate Committee review.

“I can’t think of anyone better than Michael to help deliver these important outcomes for the Australian public and to further the interests of Free TV broadcasters in 2024 and beyond.”

Coonan added that he was excited to join the industry body “at such a pivotal time in the industry”.

“I look forward to working closely with Bridget and the Free TV team to address the challenges and opportunities facing commercial television broadcasters and ensure that our industry continues to thrive in the digital age,.” he said.

The Albanese Government brought forward its proposed Communications Legislation Amendment (Prominence and Anti-siphoning) Bill 2023 in November, delivering on an election promise to safeguard Australia’s local TV industry.

The proposes changes are intended to allow local players to compete with the likes of international streaming giants such as Netflix ad Amazon Prime Video on issues of prominence and sporting broadcast rights, but have not yet been fully embraced by the local industry.

Speaking to Mumbrella in November, Fair said the proposed anti-siphoning rules were incomplete, outlining Free TV’s intention to participate “in the next stage of discussions”.

“The expansion of the current anti-siphoning rules to apply to subscription streaming services is an important new measure,” Fair said.

“However there is still an element of analogue rules in a digital world, with the failure to include free streaming rights in the proposed model. Australians should be able to watch key sporting events whether they choose to access our services through terrestrial broadcast or online streaming.”

The Bill is currently under review by the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee with a report due by 26 March 2024.


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