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Southern Cross Austereo CEO calls on government to act on reform ‘at earliest possible moment’

Southern Cross Austereo chief executive Grant Blackley has insisted the government should modernise media laws “at its earliest possible moment” as expectation mounted among senior industry executives that change may, indeed, not be far away.

Grant Blackley - Austereo

Blackley reiterated that SCA fully supports reform and said it was also determined to push for further reductions in licence fees.

The comments came as media reform reappeared on the parliamentary agenda with a bill already approved by a newly-formed backbench committee and the Coalition party room.

It is expected to be reintroduced in parliament, which resumed today, in the next 24 hours.

Media reform was shelved back in April after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the Federal election, a move which provoked widespread disillusionment in the industry.

Network Ten said at the time that the bill was “effectively dead“.

But it was resurrected this week, with media executives gathering in Canberra to press their case with politicians and crossbenchers – including Nick Xenophon and Pauline Hanson – who could hold the balance of power.

The reforms seek to end what are widely regarded as antiquated reach rules which ban mergers between metro and regional free to air broadcasters and 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.

Blackley said the urgent need for reform was clear “regardless of the shape of the government”.

Media reform

Map of Australia’s media interests, validated January 13, 2016

“I do believe there is a recognition from the Prime Minister to the Minister to both parties, and all constituents for that matter, that media reforms should occur. It is timely and it does need urgent attention,” he told Mumbrella.

“I think that everyone has recognised that the two-out-of-three and the reach rules were drafted, and implemented, at a time when the markets were different. It inherently now places increased pressure and disadvantage on certain parties in the market, notably within regional areas. That is not fair nor reasonable.”

He said SCA “naturally supports” a drive to reform the laws, and broader government commitments to further reduce the licence fee.

“We remain positively disposed to media reform. We are a major supporter of media reform and we do believe that the worlds of parliament should adopt it at its earliest possible moment,” Blackley said. “We are front and centre in terms of our views, but frankly, it is in their hands.

He added that SCA will continue to lobby the government over licence fees “because we believe that that is only fair and reasonable, against international entrants.”

Asked if the make-up of the Senate could throw a spanner in the works over reform, Blackley said: “No, I think you have to say Labor….clearly supports removal of the reach rule – they are not in opposition to that.

“They did request, and a Senate committee was derived and has produced findings in relation to the two-out-of-three rule. So I think there is bipartisan support for change and I think that Labor has adopted a fair and reasonable approach.”

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