John Hartigan lashes government over media reform as regional TV networks ready ad blitz

Hartigan says media reforms are being stalled by Canberra's "bloody mindness"

Hartigan says Canberra is being “bloody minded” on media reform

The chairman of regional broadcaster Prime Media John Hartigan has accused Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s office of being “bloody-minded” in its refusal to move on media law reforms.

The former News Corp CEO’s comments to Mumbrella come as Australia’s three major regional TV networks Prime, WIN and Southern Cross Austereo, prepare to launch a major advertising campaign across television, radio and digital aimed at forcing Canberra to take action on the issue.

Both 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.

“Consensus – consensus in media is a bit like saying football games should all be drawn,” said Hartigan. “It is just not going to happen and if it did happen then I think the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) should be called in to ask why there is a uniform view about competition.

“It’s just not going to happen, it was never going to happen and shouldn’t be a condition of media reform.”

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull

While many industry executives want the abolition of things like the “two out of three” rule, which prevents media companies from owning TV, radio and print assets in the same area, and the reach rule which prevents a free-to-air broadcaster from reaching more than 75 per cent of the Australian population, a handful are still against it.

“The most critical reforms are the reach rule and the two out of three rule. Reach is now totally redundant given that Foxtel, the ABC and SBS already have 100 per cent coverage of Australia and the rest of us are reduced to no more than 75 per cent,” said Hartigan.

He said he was worried regional Australians were losing their voice and said he hoped to mobilise the nine million Australians who live outside major metropolitan areas.

“A couple of things led us to launch this campaign: frustration and equality,” he said.  “Equality of voice for the people who happen to live in regional Australia – against an advantage in news and information that people have in the cities.

“We are just not going to cop it, they are just not going to cop it and there are nine million of them out of 23 million Australian and that’s a pretty powerful voice. Particularly in Canberra.”

The financial struggles of many of the regional broadcasters has increasingly been in the headlines in recent times, with WIN TV closing both its Mildura and Mackay offices in May, suggesting it was not commercially viable to continue operating them.

Were the media reforms to be enacted it is likely that many of the regional broadcasters would merge with their sister metropolitan networks, sparking a wave of alignments between the likes of Seven/Prime, Nine and possibly WIN, NBN or Southern Cross Austereo, or alternatively Ten, Southern Cross Austereo or WIN.

Asked about why there has been no movement so far on the issue Hartigan said: “You have overreach from the Prime Minister’s office when it comes to media legislation, but the reality is that this is nothing more than being bloody-minded.

“There is absolutely no logic in sitting on our hands with antiquated legislation. We are in the greatest revolution of all time – happening right before us. It is the communications revolution.

“We are dealing in regional Australia with legislation that was enacted in the 80s – Bob Hawke’s government.  Since then there has been the greatest changes in communications ever and everyone is richer for it except for regional Australia. We are losing new services, we are losing jobs and ultimately regional Australians are losing their voice in the national debate.

“That is what concerns me and the nine million people who live in regional Australia.”

At the time of publication the Minister for Communications office had not responded to requests for comment.

Last year minister Malcolm Turnbull told a forum: “The changes to media ownership regulations are important but the industry does need to come to a higher level of consensus before we can confidently say that we can achieve change.”

Nic Christensen 


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