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Media reform future in hands of crossbenchers after Labor opposes Bill

The Labor party has decided to oppose long-awaited plans to remove regulation from legacy media companies in Australia as they vie to stay competitive with the likes of Google and Facebook.

Mitch Fifield blasted Labor for opposing reforms

Mitch Fifield blasted Labor for opposing reforms

Last night a parliamentary committee, which oversaw last month’s hearings into media reform, handed down a report supporting the abolition of the two-out-of-three and 75% reach rules.

However, Labor members on the committee tabled a separate report saying while it supports lifting the 75% reach rule which prevents a media company broadcasting to more than 75% of the population, it opposes getting rid of the two-out-of-three rule – which stops companies from owning each of a TV network, radio network and newspapers.

That decision leaves the Government in need of the support of cross-benchers like Derryn Hinch, Jacquie Lambie and Pauline Hanson to get the reforms through.

Labor’s opposition has drawn the ire of Communications Minister Mitch Fifield who blasted leader Bill Shorten and the party for not being clear about their position on the issue before the election.

He said, in a statement: “Labor has abandoned thousands of local jobs in the media industry. Labor seeks to deny local businesses the chance to grow and to have a fighting chance against large international competitors.

“Labor has ignored wide industry support for the reforms. Labor is supporting analogue laws in a digital world. The Government will continue discussing these important reforms with crossbench senators.”

In the main report, the committee wrote: “The media environment has changed significantly since the 75% audience reach rule and the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule were introduced. It is clear that both rules are now outdated and do not meaningfully contribute to media diversity.

“Certain printed newspapers and FTA television and radio broadcasters are covered by the rules, yet national newspapers, news websites, subscription television and radio services, and various online entertainment platforms are not. Despite the 75% audience reach rule, affiliation agreements and online streaming provide, essentially, the same content throughout Australia.”

The removal of the 75% rule would likely see a slew of mergers between the major TV networks and their regional affiliates, while taking away the two-out-of-three rule would see the likes of News Corp and Fairfax have the chance to merge or acquire TV networks fully.

In their dissenting report, Labor senators poured scorn on the “trumped up notion” of this being the most important media reform in a generation, saying the removal of the two-out-of-three rule would remove diversity from the media landscape.

They also called for “licence fee relief” for commercial TV and radio operators.

It concludes: “Labor senators reject the government’s piecemeal, short-sighted approach to the future of our media industry. The proposed reforms offer no safeguards in terms of diversity of ownership and no coherent vision for the contemporary media ecosystem in terms of the public interest role of the media in the effective functioning of our democracy.”

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