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
Tony Abbott has added weight to speculation that the Coalition is planning to relax media ownership rules, which would allow big media companies to increase their dominance in regional Australia.
"The media world has changed beyond recognition over the last couple of decades," the Prime Minister said on Monday. "It's important that regulation evolve to match the changing environment."
Mr Abbott's comments follow signals from Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who on Sunday suggested he was "sympathetic" to broadcasters' demands that the Abbott government relax media ownership rules.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says his government isn't interested in "picking unnecessary fights" on media laws. Photo: Andrew Meares
Current rules prevent a single media company from owning a commercial TV broadcasting licence, a commercial radio licence and a newspaper in the same city – known as the ''two-out-of-three rule''. Commercial free-to-air TV networks are also prevented from reaching more than 75 per cent of the population.
It is understood Ten Network Holdings and Nine Entertainment Co argued for the removal of the regional reach rules and the two-out-of-three rule.
Fairfax Media's chief executive Greg Hywood wants to change the current ownership restrictions. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is also believed to have supported the scrapping of the two-out-of-three rule, while the Seven Network is less enthusiastic about the reform, believing it might favour its competitors.
After meeting with senior media executives on Friday to discuss the impending legislative changes, Mr Turnbull said on Sunday he was ''very sympathetic'' to arguments for deregulating media ownership.
''Why, in an age when the internet has become the super platform ... which everyone has access to ... why do we need to have platform-specific ownership rules dealing with newspapers and radio and television?" Mr Turnbull said.
''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.''
But Mr Abbott is moving cautiously, perhaps wary of opposition from the junior Coalition partner. Nationals members including NSW Senator John Williams, worry that by unshackling metropolitan media companies, the federal government would be allowing city-based media proprietors to dominate regional stations and replace local stories with national news.
"We're not rushing to change regulation," Mr Abbott said on Monday, in a doorstop interview while touring western Sydney.
"When we do seek to change regulation, it will be in a deregulatory direction because that's the instinct of this government," he added.
"But we're not interested in picking unnecessary fights, we're not interested in taking sides between one commercial operator and the other, so we'll be consulting with the community, we'll be consulting with the sector."
Senator Williams said the issue was not just about protecting local content. There were also important consequences for regional jobs, he said. He rejected arguments that internet services could replace local television news bulletins in regional areas.
''Many people in regional areas ... do not have computers, especially some of the elderly,'' Senator Williams said.
''I can't imagine people sitting down of a night time watching the local news on the internet out of Tamworth."
Senator Williams said he was confident Mr Turnbull would consider what effects any policy changes would have on Australians living in country and regional areas.
Opposition communications spokesman Jason Clare said he was consulting with industry on these and other media reform issues.
"We will consider their views, the views of the public and the specifics of any proposal put forward by the government before considering a position," Mr Clare said.
The Palmer United Party, which could control the balance of power when the new Senate forms on July 1, will consider the impact on media diversity and regional news content in making a decision.Party founder Clive Palmer said: ''We will look at the legislation on its merits. It's best not to make a judgment until you see the legislation.''
With AAP, Matthew Knott