Interview with David Speers – Sky News PM Agenda – Wednesday, 24 February 2016


SUBJECT/S: Media reform; ABC

DAVID SPEERS: Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare, thank you for your time this afternoon.


SPEERS: Labor’s position on this, you support some of what the Government is doing at least?

CLARE: We’ve said that we’ve got an open mind. We’ve been waiting for two and a half years for the Government to get its act together and bring this legislation to the Parliament. It’s had a longer run up than Dennis Lillee, it has taken a long time for it to get to the Parliament. Part of that has been the Government fighting within itself, the Liberal and the National Party trying to work out what it wants to do with the “reach rule”, that rule that you mentioned, that means that Seven, Nine and Ten can only broadcast to seventy-five per cent of the country.

SPEERS: The Nats want to lock in protections around regional news services, they are talking about a point system that would mean that you have to produce a certain amount of video content, you get points for that etcetera. Is that the sort of system that you like the sound of?

CLARE: We proposed this three years ago. Stephen Conroy when he was the Minister proposed that we get rid of this rule. Its reached its use by date. It doesn’t make sense that Seven, Nine and Ten can only broadcast to seventy-five per cent of the country when they can stream the same content over the internet to a hundred per cent of the country. So there is a strong argument that it should go. We’ve been waiting for the government to bring it forward.

SPEERS: And the other part of this, the “two out of three rule”. What’s your view on that?

CLARE: We’ve got an open mind. I’ve said a number of times that there are strong arguments in favour of keeping it, there are also strong arguments in favour of getting rid of it and you’ve got to balance those competing arguments.

SPEERS: What are the arguments in favour of keeping it then?

CLARE: The argument in favour of keeping it is that the internet has changed things dramatically. There is a lot more content there for people to consume, videos to watch, content to read, but it hasn’t necessarily changed the ownership of that content and you have got to differentiate between diversity of content and diversity of ownership. So for example if you were to google the top ten news websites in Australia you’d find that seven or eight of those are owned by the traditional media companies.

SPEERS: Or the content is at least.

CLARE: That’s right – News Limited, Fairfax, Seven, Nine, Ten, the ABC. That’s the argument against that says that diversity of ownership is what’s important and that the public interest is served by having as much diversity of ownership as possible.
The argument in favour is that in this age of the internet we need scalable media companies, bigger media companies in effect, that can own newspapers, radio and TV. So you change the law to allow Fairfax and Nine to merge or News Limited and Channel Ten.

SPEERS: The reality is, in the new media environment that we are in Fairfax for example are doing stuff online that is very much like TV, similarly the Nine Network are doing things online that are very much like print. So there are very blurred lines here and they are the two that most expect.

CLARE: Fairfax and Nine for example have done work together recently creating Stan, which is a competitor to Presto. There are arguments for and against, and what I have said is this is a lot more controversial than getting rid of the “reach rule”. We can accelerate the consideration of the “reach rule” through Parliament pretty quickly if the Government want to deal with that separately, but if the two proposals are in the one bill then they need to get the proper consideration of the Parliament through a parliamentary committee process. It’s not good enough for the Government to take two and a half years to work out what it wants to do here and then rush it through the Parliament. If you want to deal with the non-controversial stuff quickly come and talk to us, but if you want to put them together then we need to consider them properly.

SPEERS: Can it be done though in this term of Parliament. It depends when the election is.

CLARE: That’s true. We may only have two sitting weeks left. If the Government decides to go to an early election, we’ve got only two sitting weeks left, so the answer is probably no. If the Government was willing to talk to us and say, we’ll deal with the non-controversial bit and we’d like to accelerate that because we think regional broadcasters and the industry would benefit from that then we would work with the Government to do that. If they want to keep it together, then that would mean that you’d have to go through a parliamentary committee process and draw evidence, not just from media companies but also from people right across the board and get their views.

SPEERS: What about anti-siphoning, disclosure of course in case it is needed we are on – I work for Pay TV and this is a big issue for them. The Government is not apparently going to move on the anti-siphoning list which restricts certain sports, a lot of the big sports can’t be shown, or have to be shown on free-to-air TV. Just getting back to this argument about where the media is at now, so much is viewed online and so much is streamed and there aren’t similar restrictions there.

CLARE: I think it would be a pretty brave government to take sport that people are used to getting for free and forcing people to pay for it. Whether it is football grand finals, cricket one dayers , test matches. Whether it is before an election or frankly afterwards. My suspicion is the government is just pushing this off until after the election. If you take the sports off TV that people love and have grown up expecting that they get to watch for free and then tell them that they have to pay for it there will be a lot of people that will be upset. People who watch Sky, who can get the content through Fox Sports may not be upset because they are already paying for Sky, paying for Foxtel but there are a lot of people who don’t.

SPEERS: Do you accept that the list is far too long at the moment? The number of sports that are on there.

CLARE: The devil is always in the detail. The difficulty here is what sport do you take off it and the reaction of the Australian people to those sports being taken off. My advice to the Government would be tread very carefully here because Australians love their sport and they don’t like it when the sport that they watch for free they get told they have to pay for.

SPEERS: Finally we’ve seen Mark Scott the outgoing Managing Director of the ABC speak at the National Press Club today, and again talk about the idea of a merger or a merger of sorts with SBS. What do you think? He’s in a position to know these things.

CLARE: Yes and he said he’d worked on that over a long period of time. It’s not something that we are planning but I do think there is some logic in looking at the efficiencies that can be gained through sharing back of house services.

The Government’s efficiency review looked at this lightly but they didn’t dive into the detail here. I think that any government, any prudent government should look at that and see whether there is value in doing that but SBS is a very important organisation that’s got a different job and a different mandate to the ABC. As a Member of Parliament for Western Sydney who represents one of the most multicultural parts of the country I think that we need to protect that special role that SBS plays.

SPEERS: Jason Clare thanks very much for joining us this afternoon.

CLARE: Thanks David.