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Media reform bill to hit Senate on Monday

The Media Reform Bill will be debated in the Senate on Monday, however Labor has flagged its ongoing opposition to any changes which would allow more media ownership concentration.

Senator Fifield: Having constructive discussions

The Coalition is hoping to push through the bill through before both houses of Parliament take a break from March 30 ahead of the federal Budget on May 9. 

A spokesperson for Communications Minister Mitch Fifield confirmed The Media Reform Bill is listed for debate in the Senate on Monday and said conversations around the legislation were ongoing.

“The Minister continues to have constructive discussions with his cross-bench colleagues on the substance of the media reform legislation,” the spokesperson said.

The reforms, which include removing the reach rule (which currently prevents networks from broadcasting to more than 75% of the population) and the two out of three rule (whereby media companies cannot own a TV network, radio station and newspaper within the same market), continue to meet opposition from Labor.

A spokesperson for the Minister said the ongoing opposition was a “direct threat to local media jobs”.

Acting Shadow Communications Minister Mark Dreyfus conceded the internet had changed the media industry, but said the proposed reforms don’t hold the answers to the sector’s problems.

Dreyfus said Labour is willing to work with the government to repeal the “outdated” 75% reach rule and introduce “new local programming requirements following a trigger event”, but will not support changes to the two out of three rule.

“Media concentration in Australia is amongst the highest in the world, and the majority of voters rightly disapprove of changing media laws to allow a single company to control a newspaper, TV network and radio network in the same area,” Dreyfus said.

“Labor opposes the government’s move to scrap important diversity safeguards because we need diversity in media in Australia, now and into the future. The abolition of the two out of three rule would lead to fewer voices being heard in an already narrow media landscape.”

Dreyfus also criticised the slow progress of the reforms.

“It’s been a year since Senator Fifield announced this legislation would be introduced to Parliament. Since then he’s failed to make any progress,” Dreyfus said.

“We moved amendments that could have seen these changes sail through Parliament last year, but the government arrogantly dismissed this offer.”

The 45th Parliament consists of 29 Coalition Senators and 26 Labor Senators. Making up the numbers are the Australian Greens (nine), One Nation (four), Nick Xenophon Team (three), Liberal Democrats (one), Jacqui Lambie Network (one), Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party (one) and the Australian Conservatives (one).

The Greens are also opposed to the bill in its current form, so in order to pass the reforms, the Coalition will be reliant on the independent Senators.

Speaking on 3AW yesterday, Xenophon said he was still speaking to the government about the two out of three rule.

“I think that if it goes, there would have to be a whole range of other measures in its place to make sure that you don’t end up with an undue concentration of media ownership. And what I’ve said is that when it comes to Google and Facebook, which has cannibalised traditional media, they can use their content, get advertising on it. It has really hit traditional media really hard in this country and that to me is a bigger, more primary issue for the survival of traditional media in this country,” he told the radio station.

Xenophon told 3AW that loopholes enabling gambling ads during sports broadcasts and Australia’s high television licensing fees were bigger issues for him in the media sector and he would continue to advocate for change.

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