Abbott supports media changes
The Prime Minister cautiously endorses relaxing media ownership regulations, saying it's important they evolve to match the changing environment. Nine news.PT1M47S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-34h2h 620 349 March 10, 2014
The Abbott government has given its strongest indication yet that it will relax restrictions on media ownership, paving the way for more consolidation of the industry.
Two days after meeting with Australia's most powerful media executives, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull questioned why the country needed specific ownership rules regarding print, television and radio, given the surge in competition from the internet.
Axing the laws would allow a potential takeover of Ten by News Corporation, which has strong links with the network, whose chairman is Lachlan Murdoch.
Media choices: restrictions may be relaxed on ownership laws.
It could also allow Fairfax Media, owner of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, to join forces with a television partner such as Seven.
Also under scrutiny is the 75 per cent reach rule. This restricts television networks from broadcasting to less than 75 per cent of the Australian population.
A parliamentary committee was of the view last June that the ''reach rule was becoming redundant with the advent of the internet and converging media'' and supported its removal.
Analysts at JPMorgan say the scrapping of the reach rules could make takeover targets of regional TV networks Prime Media and Southern Cross Media.
Prime broadcasts Seven content in regional areas while Southern Cross broadcasts Ten content. The privately held WIN Television broadcasts Nine content.
Mr Turnbull said he was ''very sympathetic'' to media bosses' arguments that the laws should be scrapped.
''Why, in an age where the internet has become this super, hyper-platform which everyone has access to, which is increasingly providing more and more and more avenues for competition … do we need to have platform-specific ownership rules dealing with newspapers, radio and TV?'' he said on Sky News.
''My view is the arrival of the internet, and the additional diversity and avenues for competition that it brings, really says we should have less regulation and more freedom.
"The argument goes that diversity is no longer an issue, competition is greater than it ever has been and that's undoubtedly true.''
Cross-media ownership laws introduced under Labor in the 1980s ban one company from owning more than two of a newspaper, TV
station and radio licence in the same market.
Mr Turnbull stressed the government had made no decision on altering the laws, but said ''it would be fair to say I'm very sympathetic" to the media industry's push for a relaxation of ownership laws''.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott was also supportive, saying the Coalition has a ''deregulationist instinct''.
''Our mindset is always to make rules less rather than more onerous,'' he said.
''We're consulting with people in the sector; unlike the former government we don't believe in giving people in this sector orders about what they should and shouldn't wear on their heads.
''But let's wait and see where those consultations go."
But the Greens, who will control the balance of power in the Senate until July, plan to oppose any changes to the existing legislation.
Greens senator Scott Ludlam said the Coalition should consult more widely, rather than with the ''media barons'' and other executives at the ''top of the tree''.
''What's being contemplated is incredibly dangerous,'' he said, rejecting the argument that the rise in online news had made the existing laws around specific media ownership redundant.
''I think the internet is extremely disruptive to existing business models, but what we are already seeing is a consolidation of online news and current affairs reporting in the hands of those who control the 20th century platforms.
''If you remove any other restrictions on consolidation and concentration of ownership among those players, you make it even harder for new voices to emerge,'' Senator Ludlam said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten declined to weigh into the media ownership debate.