Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2018


Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Foreign Media Ownership and Community Radio) Bill 2017; Consideration of House of Representatives Message

5:39 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the committee agree to the amendments made by the House of Representatives.

I want to take this opportunity to outline for colleagues the detail of the amendments to this bill that were moved and accepted in the House of Representatives. Colleagues will recall that last year the government successfully legislated the comprehensive media reform package to strengthen Australian media organisations and give them a better opportunity to compete in a challenging and changing environment.

One element of the package was the repeal of the 75 per cent audience reach rule. That rule prohibited the person, either in their own right or as a director of one or more companies, from being in a position to exercise control of commercial television broadcasting licences whose combined reach exceeded 75 per cent of the Australian population. The rule was redundant and did little to support media diversity.

Colleagues will also recall that the government's legislation included a range of measures to ensure the availability of local content in regional areas and to strengthen links between local content and the communities it's broadcast to. Prior to our reforms and currently, the Broadcasting Services Act has required regional commercial television licensees in certain markets to provide local content, termed 'material of local significance' in the act, within specified areas. Under those arrangements, regional commercial television licensees in aggregated markets in Tasmania are required to provide approximately 120 points of material of local significance per week to local areas within the licence areas. Material of local significance is material that is broadcast to a local area and relates directly to either the local area or the licence area. The aggregated markets include northern New South Wales, southern New South Wales, regional Victoria and regional Queensland.

The government's reforms extended and increased local content obligations for regional commercial television licensees where there is what's called a trigger event. The new obligations apply to regional commercial television broadcasting licences which, as a result of a change in control, become part of a group of commercial television broadcasting licences whose combined licence area populations exceed 75 per cent of the Australian population. The requirement for the licensee to be part of a commercial television group that reaches over 75 per cent of the population ensures that the additional local content obligations are only triggered after the licensee is in a position to benefit from the additional scale and efficiency that the media reforms will allow.

In other parts of the country, particularly South Australia and Western Australia, there are non-aggregated television licence areas for which there are no minimum local content requirements. The government's reforms included provision for licensees in those markets to be subject to minimum local content requirements for the first time, should they incur a trigger event. In these non-aggregated markets, following a trigger event, licensees are required to provide 100 points of material of local significance per week. The additional obligations are aimed at ensuring that there is a local content obligation in nearly all regional licence areas following a change in control, including those where there is none currently. Where there is no trigger event, the local content obligations previously in place for aggregated markets continue to apply.

Following passage of the legislation, FreeTV Australia approached the government regarding an anomaly arising from the application of the regional local programming requirements to a specific licensee in regional Western Australia. After consideration, the government agreed an anomaly existed, and we are seeking to rectify it through the amendment we have moved to this bill. For historical reasons, the licensing arrangements for the two commercial television broadcasting licensees in regional and remote Western Australia—that is, GWN7 and WIN—differ significantly from ordinary practice. Although they broadcast to a geographic area of an equivalent size, GWN7 presently holds four licences, three of which are subject to additional local programming obligations, while WIN holds only one. The unconventional licensing arrangement means that GWN7 would be subject to three times the local content obligations that WIN would face if WIN's sole commercial television broadcasting licence in regional Western Australia was affected by a trigger event.

Schedule 3 of this bill, which has been inserted following the government's amendments, will equalise the respective obligations of GWN7 and WIN by inserting provisions in division 5D of part 5 of the Broadcasting Services Act that alter the manner in which local content points may be accumulated by a commercial television broadcasting licensee for the three licence areas that cover the regional areas of Western Australia. This ensures that the local programming requirements apply equally and fairly in Western Australia, in line with the original policy intent.

The other measures in this bill are also non-controversial. The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Foreign Media Ownership and Community Radio) Bill 2017 implements two measures developed as part of the government's broadcasting and content reform package. The first is the establishment of a register of foreign ownership of media assets. The register is to be overseen and administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. The register will enhance the transparency of foreign investment in Australian media companies and the levels and sources of such investment. Foreign media ownership restrictions for media were abolished in 2006. This has enabled greater investment in Australian media organisations, with the acquisition of Network Ten by CBS being the most recent example. However, foreign holdings of media assets could benefit from greater transparency, which this new register will deliver.

The second measure relates to applications for community radio broadcasting licences. The bill will introduce a new local content criterion that the ACMA can consider in assessing such applications, giving applicants the opportunity and incentive to deliver more localised content. This comes on top of the additional support the government has delivered for community radio, including a total of $18 million of new funding through the May 2017 budget and MYEFO.

All the measures in this bill form part of the government's broader package which represents the biggest reform to Australian media laws in nearly three decades. The government strengthened Australia's media industry, enhancing media diversity and securing local journalism jobs, particularly in regional areas. The changes have brought Australia's outdated media laws into the 21st century. The government reforms included the abolition of broadcast licence fees and replacement with a more-modest spectrum charge, providing close to $90 million per annum in ongoing financial relief to metropolitan and regional television and radio broadcasters; a substantial reduction in gambling advertising in live sport broadcasts, representing a strong community dividend with the establishment of a clear safe zone for families to enjoy live sport; the abolition of redundant ownership rules that shackle local media companies and inhibit their ability to achieve the scale necessary to compete with foreign tech giants; and retention of diversity protections that ensure multiple controllers of television and radio licences as well as minimum numbers of media voices in all markets. These are the two-to-a-market rule for commercial radio, the one-to-a-market rule for commercial television, the requirement for a minimum of five independent immediate voices in metro markets and a minimum of four independent media voices in regional markets, and of course the competition assessments made by the ACCC. There is also higher minimum local content requirements for regional television following trigger events, including introducing minimum requirements in markets across South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory for the first time, and also reforms to anti-siphoning to strengthen local-subscription TV providers.

The government is delivering a $60 million Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package, including a $50 million Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund, the Regional and Small Publishers Cadetship Program, to support 200 cadetships, and 60 Regional Journalism Scholarships. Our reforms have the unanimous support of Australia's media industry, including WIN, Prime, Southern Cross Austereo, Nine, Seven, Ten, Fairfax, News Corp, Foxtel, Free TV, ASTRA and Commercial Radio Australia. A number of the organisations I have just mentioned will be here tonight for Free TV's annual occasion in the building.

It was also interesting to hear the contributions in the earlier debate from those who think that regulations crafted in the 1980s are still appropriate for today, but I do need to point out that those who put that proposition forward had no prescription for how to enhance the viability of Australian media organisations. So the reforms that we have put in place for media will endure, and that can only be to the benefit of Australian media organisations, their viability, the journalists and others that they employ, and the important contributions that they make to media diversity and civic journalism.

Question agreed to.

Resolution reported; report adopted.


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