Industry welcomes Paul Fletcher as new comms minister

The nation’s media industry has overwhelmingly welcomed Paul Fletcher as the the new communications minister after incumbent Mitch Fifield was named as Australia’s next ambassador to the United Nations.

Fletcher served as director of corporate and regulatory affairs at Optus between 2000 and 2007 after four years as a staffer with Howard-era minister of communications, Richard Alston. In the new cabinet line up he will also be minister for the arts.

Paul Fletcher becomes communications minister after serving an apprenticeship with predecessor Richard Alston in the late 1990s.

Despite his industry experience, Fletcher had been responsible for families and social services in the previous cabinet after Morrison became Prime Minister in August 2018.

Morrison announced the new cabinet the weekend after the coalition’s election win, saying Fletcher will focusing on social media and cyber safety issues in the new Parliament.

“As the National Broadband Network nears full roll out and social media becomes an even more prominent front in the fight to keep Australians safe, Paul Fletcher, as Minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts brings extensive experience and insight to the task,” the Prime Minister said.

Fletcher takes the role as the Australian Communications and Media Authority prepares to hand down its Digital Platforms report which is expected to recommend dramatic changes to regulations governing global online services including Google and Facebook.

Mitch Fifield leaves the communications role having steered through major changes to Australia’s media industry

During his tenure as communication minister, Fifield led the government’s push to change media ownership regulations which resulted in Nine taking control of Fairfax, something that would have been impossible under previous laws.

Fifield also presided over the abolishing of broadcast licensing fees, Foxtel receiving a $30m subsidy for women’s sport and became notorious for a constant stream of complaints about the ABC.

The Prime Minister praised Fifield’s achievements, saying: “It was Mitch’s call about what he wanted to do, I would have been very happy for Mitch to continue to serve in Communications and the Arts.

“I think Mitch has done an outstanding job in what has been a very difficult task in the NBN. And Paul Fletcher comes to this role no stranger to these issues.

“He has deep experience when it comes to ICT in this country and I think he will be a great successor to Mitch and he’ll do an outstanding job and I thank Mitch for the great job he has done.”

Industry leaders were quick to praise Fletcher’s ascension to the communications portfolio.

Free TV Australia CEO, Bridget Fair, welcomed the new minister, saying: “Paul Fletcher is an inspired choice for this portfolio. He is outstandingly well qualified and I warmly congratulate him on his appointment.

“It is hard to imagine anyone better suited to take on the challenges in the broadcasting and telecommunications sectors at this challenging time of great change.

“Minister Fletcher’s thoughtful and considered approach to policy development will stand us all in good stead and Free TV looks forward to working closely with him in the years ahead on the important issues facing the broadcasting industry.”

A Nine spokesperson said: ““Nine looks forward to working with Paul Fletcher as the new Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts.

“As a Communications industry leader before entering politics, Minister Fletcher is impressively qualified to help drive the much needed modernisation of the regulatory framework for the sector.

“Nine thanks Senator Fifield for overseeing the most dramatic change in media regulation in decades and wish him well in his new endeavour.”

Seven’s spokesperson was equally effusive, saying: “We welcome Paul’s appointment.

“He has deep experience in the sector and will be able to quickly get on top of the portfolio and its full range of issues, including grappling with what are likely to be far reaching recommendations coming out of the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry.”

Ten’s spokesperson joined the chorus, saying: “Paul Fletcher is a great choice for the Communications portfolio. He is smart, pragmatic and has a deep understanding of our industry.

“Paul is definitely the right person to be dealing with the big and complex issues that need to be sorted in this area.

“We would also like to congratulate Mitch Fifield on his new role as Australia’s representative to the United Nations. We thank him for all his hard work in communications over the past few years.”

The national broadcaster also welcomed Fletcher’s appointment, saying: “The ABC congratulates Minister Fletcher on his appointment. He has deep knowledge and a genuine interest in the communications portfolio. We look forward to working with him.”

Joan Warner, head of Commercial Radio Australia, called for more media policy changes under the new minister

Joan Warner, chief executive officer of Commercial Radio Australia, urged the minister to look at further reforms to the media industry, saying: “The industry congratulates Minister Fletcher on his appointment.

“We enjoyed working with the new Minister when he was the Parliamentary Secretary to Malcolm Turnbull in 2015 and look forward to working closely with him once again.”

“We will be looking to meet soon with Minister Fletcher to discuss a broad range of policy issues impacting on commercial radio including the regulatory inequalities that exist between commercial radio and the digital platforms.

“This includes the removal of the outdated election advertising blackout rule, stronger protections for the removal of copyright infringing material and other issues outlined in the ACCC inquiry.”

Warner also said the industry would continue discussions over government support for regional broadcasters moving to digital broadcasting while thanking the Fifield for his work in reforming media ownership rules and cutting radio licence fees.

Facebook also applauded Fletcher’s appointment with Mia Garlick, director of policy for Australia and New Zealand, saying: “We welcome Mr Fletcher’s appointment. We’ve previously worked constructively with him on online safety and look forward to collaborating with him given his considerable knowledge and understanding of the industry as we work to set clear rules on these and other important issues.”


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