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Turnbull tells media industry to find consensus before changes to reach rules can be made

Malcolm Turnbull speaking at today's event.

Malcolm Turnbull speaking at today’s event.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the government will not pursue changes to the much-debated media ownership rules until “more consensus is achieved” between executives from the major companies.

In a speech to the Newspaper Works Future Forum this morning Turnbull confirmed the much-anticipated rule changes, which would see the path cleared for a series of mergers in the industry and were originally signalled to go through this year, admitted that whilst there is a need for change, it cannot happen  whilst there is “self interest” in the market.

Whilst Nine Entertainment Co,  Network Ten and News Corp have all come out in favour of abolishing the “two out of three rule”, which prevents media companies from owning TV, radio and print assets together, Seven West Media’s chairman Kerry Stokes has said he is not in favour of the change.

During today’s speech Turnbull also said the big publishers have to embrace change as it comes, quipping: “We cannot be like Canute who wants to turn back the waves, we’ve got to be like a great surfer who takes advantage of them and rides them. All of that is an opportunity, but it demands of us enormous nimbleness.”

Those comments echoed those made by the Daily Mail Australia during a row with News Corp over copy theft, when the British publisher accused the Australian managers of the company of being “King Canutes” who were “unfamiliar with how the modern digital world works.”

Turnbull said any changes to media ownership regulations would not see the government drop the requirements for local news content, saying that area must “remain strong and vibrant”.

Addressing the need for change he said: “Many people in the industry have asked me to look at whether we still need platform specific media ownership rules. The media is generally in broad agreement that changes to the rules are needed, a lot of reform rules are out of date.

“But I know consensus ends where self interest kicks in. I’m in the process of holding focussed discussions with senior executives to test if consensus can be achieved, but we’ve got a very big agenda in my area particularly with sorting out the NBN, reform of the public broadcasters and Australia Post, so the changes to media ownership regulations are important but the industry does need to come to a higher level of consensus before we can confidently say that we can achieve change.”

The minister also threw in an anecdote about his ferry ride into the city this morning, saying: “I noticed no-one was reading a newspaper, everyone had their smartphones out, no doubt reading a newspaper.

“Nonetheless there is still a very strong bias to print in advertising revenue. Print owns 19 per cent of industry revenue whilst taking just 5 per cent media consumption time.  Robert Thompson CEO of News Corp summed it up very well recently when he said print is a very concentrated intense reading experience, you need affinity in our digitally distracted age. That’s a profound insight.”

Nic Christensen and Alex Hayes

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