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Media firms frustrated as reform bill faces another 10-week inquiry amid Labor and Green concern

Media reform in Australia – reintroduced by the Government this morning – is facing another protracted 10-week inquiry.

Labor Senators called for another detailed exploration of the bill after it was reintroduced in the Lower House before going to the Senate.

The committee looking into the reforms, the Senate Environment and Communications Committee, must report by November 11.

News of another inquiry, just five months after the conclusion of the previous hearing, will frustrate broadcasters who are anxious for the rapid abolition of what are widely regarded as archaic rules blocking the merger of metro and regional companies.

Labor, however, while relaxed about scrapping the reach rule – which bans such mergers – remain anxious about ending the two-out-of-three rule which prevents media firms from controlling more than two media platforms – commercial radio, commercial television and newspaper – in the same radio licence area.

The Greens are also sceptical.

As the bill re-entered the political landscape, the Government made clear it did not support any further review, arguing the bill has already faced “significant scrutiny”.

Communications minister Mitch Fifield said in an earlier statement: “Australian media companies, regional local content and jobs are at risk if these reforms are not enacted soon. It is time for action.”

Ten Network chief executive, Paul Anderson, said: “We are disappointed that we now face another extended 10-week inquiry into the Bill.

“After years of debate and discussion we urgently need the Parliament to get behind local voices and give us fairer rules and certainty around the regulatory framework. The existing media rules have to go, and quickly.”

Anderson: "Disappointed"

Anderson: “Disappointed”

He added: “The Parliament has a simple choice: get behind the Australian media companies that are investing in local content and local jobs and give us a fair chance to compete, or continue to give our big tech competitors a free ride by strangling local media companies.

“The only way to ensure media diversity in Australia is to have strong, viable local media companies, and the existing rules are a real threat to that.

“The foreign-owned tech companies have demonstrated that they are not interested in any meaningful investment in local content or local news, so we need our local voices to remain strong.”

Anderson said the current laws “combined with the onerous tax of the world’s highest television licence fees”, were arbitrarily holding back its ability to compete.

“We are yet to hear any rational argument in favour of keeping the two out of three rule, which only applies to three offline media platforms and doesn’t even recognise the existence of the internet.”

Existing rules are “illogical and antiquated”, he said.

Prime Media chief executive Ian Audsley also expressed his irritation at a second inquiry.

Ian Audsley

Ian Audsley: “The big winners of inertia are Google and Facebook”

“The Committee is reporting in 10 weeks, which given how few sitting weeks there are before now and the end of the year, is somewhat frustrating,” he said. “Having said that, we will continue to talk to Labor and the cross bench senators.

“On one view it’s another opportunity to prosecute our case as to why we believe that this reform is important and why it needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.”

Audsley added: “There are two big winners from the years of naval gazing and inertia on media reform and they are Google and Facebook. They are unregulated, pay no licence fees, have no Australian content obligations and no advertising restrictions.”

It is “unfathomable” that politicians would find such a scenario acceptable, he said.

Prime Media chairman John Hartigan said those who choose to stand in the way of reform must “accept the blame” for less diversity and job losses.

Seven West Media chief executive Tim Worner said the company recognises the bill raises “complex issues”.

“We will participate in the further Senate Inquiry,” he said.

Worner added that Seven was pushing for a review of media regulation, including television licence fees.

“The removal of licence fees is critical to allow commercial broadcasters to re-invest in Australian content and compete with global over the top players, most of whom do not support Australian content or even pay basic company tax,” he said.

Nine also regards the licence fee as a key priority, with CEO Hugh Marks telling investors at the release of its financial results last week that the 3.75% fees remains “at odds with the international average”.

Grant Blackley

Blackley: “SCA…urges the Senate and its Committees to consider the Bill as urgently as possible”

Southern Cross Austereo CEO, Grant Blackley, said in a statement: “SCA welcomes re-introduction of legislation to reform archaic media ownership rules in Australia and urges the Senate and its Committees to consider the Bill as urgently as possible.

“I call on the Government, Labor and the cross-bench Senators to work together to pass the Bill this year.  Rules that were put in place in the days before the internet, pay TV, google, facebook and youtube have no place in today’s media landscape and are holding back regional media businesses.

“People living in regional  Australia who want to see free to air television complete with local content will be best served by strong media companies unencumbered by these outdated restrictions.”

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