Government reveals full extent of One Nation media reform deal

The Turnbull government has released the details of its agreement with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation which will see the minor party throw its support behind the stalled media reforms.

One Nation’s demands – which the government has agreed to as part of the media reform negotiations with minor parties – include a register of foreign ownership interests in regulated media assets, transparency in the remuneration of senior staff and on-air talent, legislative requirements for the ABC around fairness and balance, and an investigation into whether the national broadcaster is breaching its competitive neutrality. 

A release from Communications Minister Mitch Fifield’s office argued the government was required to engage with the fringe party because Labor would not support the proposed changes in their current form.

“Senate colleagues, apart from Labor, have been involved in active discussions with the government on media reform,” the release said.

“As has been the case for the life of this Senate, it is independent and minor party colleagues who are prepared to constructively engage.

“Given Labor is more interested in playing politics while risking jobs and livelihoods, the government will continue to negotiate with minor party and independent Senate colleagues to secure the passage of this important legislation.”

Fifield: Couldn’t convince Labor so turned to One Nation

Labor has been quick to hit back at the deal, which it says is “a direct assault on the independence of our public broadcasters” and “confirms how low to Turnbull government is prepared to stoop”.

“The Turnbull government proved it is utterly desperate and bereft of integrity in bowing to One Nation’s demands in order to scrape its flawed media ownership changes through Parliament,” a release from Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland said.

“This is a government in chaos that is hell-bent on destroying media diversity  in Australia; already one of the most concentrated media markets in the world.”

Rowland and Labor also accused the government of back-room deals and warned what this could mean when it comes time to negotiate upcoming budgets for the ABC.

“These latest additions to a piecemeal package, heavy with political tradeoffs, confirm how deep the Turnbull government’s contenpt for the ABC runs. This proves you simply can’t trust the Liberals with the ABC,” Labor said.

“Pauline Hanson has made it clear that she will be going after the ABC’s funding. With Malcolm Turnbull proving to be such a weak leader, it is clear that One Nation will be calling the shots when it comes to negotiating their ABC’s budget next year.”

Fifield however, noted the reforms – which include the abolition of the two-out-of-three and reach rules – have the unanimous support of the industry.

“The government’s comprehensive and holistic package of reforms seeks to give Australian media organisations a fighting chance by freeing them from outdated laws and regulations,” Fifield’s release said.

“The reforms will give media organisations more options as to how to configure themselves to better support their viability.”

The agreed terms for One Nation’s support of the media reform package are detailed below:

Hanson: Eyes on the ABC

Register of foreign ownership interests in regulated media assets
To increase transparency of foreign ownership of media assets, the Government will introduce legislation before the end of 2017 to establish a public register of foreign ownership interests in regulated Australian media assets. Under this proposal, foreign persons – as defined in the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 (FATA) – would be required to disclose holdings of 2.5 per cent or higher of these regulated media assets.

The Senator Bridget McKenzie proposals to enhance the ABC’s provision of services to rural and regional Australia
The Government will introduce the McKenzie proposals as Government legislation by the end of 2017. These changes would ensure that the needs of rural and regional communities would receive appropriate focus by the ABC. Specifically these proposals would be to:

  • Insert words into the ABC Charter to explicitly require a focus on regional Australia;
  • Require the ABC Board to establish a Regional Advisory Council;
  • Require the ABC Board to consult with the Regional Advisory Council on service changes which will have a significant impact on regional audiences in particular;
  • Require the ABC Board to have at least two non-executive directors who have a substantial connection to, or experience in, a rural or regional community through business, industry or community involvement. When appointing non- executive directors to these positions, the Minister must table a statement in Parliament detailing how the appointees satisfy this criterion; and
  • Require the ABC to include certain particulars in its Annual Report, such as a breakdown of rural and regional versus metro employees, ratios of journalists to support staff and hours of local rural and regional news broadcasts aggregated by broadcast area.

National broadcasters – competitive neutrality inquiry
The Government will initiate an inquiry into whether or not the practices of the national broadcasters are breaching the general principle of competitive neutrality and that they are operating on a level playing field with their commercial counterparts. The Government’s inquiry process will examine these issues and make recommendations.

National broadcasters – transparency in the remuneration of senior staff and on-air talent
To increase transparency of the salaries provided to senior staff and on-air talent for our national broadcasters, the Government will write to the boards of the ABC and SBS stating that it is Government policy that they undertake regular and ongoing disclosure of individual salaries and allowances of staff and on-air talent where their total salary and allowances are in excess of $200,000 per annum. This would follow the recent example of the BBC.

In the event either broadcaster does not agree to implement this policy, the Government will introduce legislation before the end of 2017 to amend the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 and the Special Broadcasting Services Act 1991 to give effect to this policy.

A legislative requirement for ABC news and information to be ‘fair’ and ‘balanced’
Government will introduce legislation before the end of 2017 to insert the words ‘fair’ and ‘balanced’ into the existing section 8(1)(c) of the ABC Act. This amendment would mean the relevant subsection would state that it is a duty of the Board:

(c) to ensure that the gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information is fair, balanced, accurate and impartial according to the recognized standards of objective journalism;

Additional measures to support community radio
The Government will implement the following additional measures to support community radio:

Additional funding to support community digital radio ($4.0 million over the forward estimates)
To support community digital radio rollout, the Government will provide further funding to the CBP for an additional two years of $2.0 million in 2019-20 and $2.0 million in 2020-21.

Enhanced news programming
To assist community broadcasters to maintain or enhance their provision of news content, the Government will provide additional funding towards the expansion of the National Radio News (NRN) service. The Government will provide additional funding of $0.8 million per annum over four years to the Community Broadcasting Program (CBP) to implement this measure.

Greater emphasis on localism for licence applications
To bolster the amount of local programming and content provided on community radio, the Government will introduce legislation before the end of 2017 to amend the criteria against which applications for community radio licences and renewals are assessed to specify a role in informing local communities.

Improved online presence including the establishment of a central online streaming portal
To support the community radio sector’s further development and enhancement of their online presence, the Government will provide additional new funding towards the industry’s existing
CBOnline Project with a focus on supporting the development of a centralised portal and app. The Government will provide additional funding of $0.6 million per annum over four years to
the CBP to implement this measure.

Industry capacity and skills development
To support the capacity, skills and competencies of the community radio sector’s workforce and volunteer base, the Government will provide additional new funding towards the industry’s existing National Training Program with a focus on enhancing the management and small-business skills of the sector. The Government will provide additional funding of $0.6 million per annum over four years to the CBP to implement this measure.

As well as including significant regulatory reforms, the above measures represent a package of additional funding for community radio of $12 million over four years.


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