Interview with ABC AM – Wednesday 2 March 2016


SUBJECT/S: Media Reform, Marriage Equality, Western Australian MPs

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It is the biggest shake up in media ownership laws for nearly thirty years. Long-awaited laws to reform the media landscape will be introduced in Federal Parliament today. Under the changes a rule that prevents television networks from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the population will be abolished, another rule preventing any one company from owning a television station, radio station and a newspaper in the same market is also set to go. The changes are expected to trigger a series of mergers between regional television networks and their metropolitan counterparts. For more, I’m joined in the studio by the Shadow Minister for Communications, Jason Clare. Jason Clare, welcome to the program.


BRISSENDEN: It’s time to update the media rules, isn’t it? What changes are in store?

CLARE: Well there’s two parts to this package. One is relatively uncontroversial and that’s the change to the “Reach rule”. At the moment, Channel Nine, Channel Seven and Channel Ten broadcast to 75 per cent of the country but they can stream the same content over the internet to 100 per cent of the country. We proposed to get rid of that three years ago, so I’ve said there is a strong argument to remove that. Of course we do need to make sure we protect local content in the regions, so we will have a good look at what the Government is proposing there, but it’s relatively uncontroversial.

Then there is another part of the package which is the removal of the “Two out of Three” rule. At the moment major media companies can only own two out of the following three – newspapers, radio or television. The Government wants to scrap that rule. That would potentially mean that a company like Fairfax and Channel Nine could get together or News Limited and Channel Ten get together. So it creates bigger, more vertically integrated media companies that own newspapers, radio and television.

BRISSENDEN: What’s wrong with that – in an age where anyone can print anything?

CLARE: I’ve said I’ve got an open mind to this. There are strong arguments to say that we should get rid of it if you want to create big scalable media businesses in an internet age, but equally there are good arguments that say we should keep it if we want to make sure we’ve got as much diversity in media as possible.

BRISSENDEN: How do you guarantee that? Because the underlying rationale for the old rule still exists doesn’t it. It’s in the public interest now to have as much diversity as possible, but how do you guarantee it in an age where anyone can log on to anything at any time.

CLARE: One of the challenges here is that even in an internet age where there is so much more content available, much of that content is still owned by the traditional media companies. If you Google a list of the top ten media news websites, you’ll find that seven or eight of them are owned by Fairfax or News Limited, Nine, Seven, Ten or the ABC.

Although the internet has meant that there is a lot more content, it’s easier to get information in different ways, much of that information is still created, collected, curated by those traditional media companies.

BRISSENDEN: But these rule changes would in effect give these corporate interests more power, wouldn’t it?

CLARE: That’s right. It would give them more scope because in effect you create one news agency that was able to work in the newspaper space as well as radio and television.

BRISSENDEN: Is that a good thing?

CLARE: I’ve said we’ve got an open mind. I know what the media companies think. They have made it very clear what they think about this. I think it’s time the Australian people got to have their say. We have been waiting two and a half years for the government to come forward with this package. It’s had a longer run up than Dennis Lillee.

Now we are finally going to get the Bill introduced today, and I’ve said there needs to be a proper Parliamentary Inquiry into this proposal. That will happen. The Minister has said that a Senate Committee will look at this. There needs to be an opportunity for written and oral submissions and for the people of Australia to give us their feedback.

BRISSENDEN: So one of the things that people really want to protect is local regional content and that’s what seen at risk here. How do you do that and how do you define local? For instance, is Orange local enough for Bathurst and Dubbo?

CLARE: Good question and it’s one of the things that we will pursue in this Parliamentary Inquiry. The Government have said that they will set up a point system, there’s already a points system in place for local content in some parts of Australia. What they’ve said is that if, for example if Channel 9, 7 or 10 bought a regional television company, than that would trigger a higher requirement for local content and they’ve set out a few examples of what that might mean including filming on the ground of local people talking about local issues.

I want to investigate that more and see whether it meets the test of local content that people would expect. But Michael, I think you’ve got to expect that you’re going to see less local content in the regions and that invariably means a bigger role for the ABC which is out there everywhere, providing important information, whether it’s in an emergency or whether it’s just local news. The importance of the ABC in this internet age is only going to get bigger and more important.

BRISSENDEN: Anti-siphoning laws are not part of this but would you support a weakening of those rules, or even a scrapping or weakening in any way?

CLARE: These are rules that determine what sport is available for free on television and what sport could potentially be on pay TV.

BRISSENDEN: The big pay TV operators want these rules weakened.

CLARE: That’s because there’s a lot of money in it. I think it would be a very brave government to take sport off free TV, especially before an election. Just to give listeners a bit more information about this, there are about ten sports on that list, as well as the Olympics and the Winter Olympics. For a government to take some of these sports off the list and require people to pay for it, I think would be a very brave thing to do. But I suspect that we haven’t heard the end of this, if we don’t hear more about this before the election, if the Government is successful in this election, I think we might see them revisit this down the track.

BRISSENDEN: That’s because those big pay TV operations won’t take the foot off the accelerator.

CLARE: Well they haven’t ruled it out. If you look carefully at the Government’s paper that they put out yesterday, they said that it’s not part of this package. But they didn’t say that they are not going to pursue this potential area of change.

BRISSENDEN: Just quickly on Joe Bullock, the West Australian Senator, a pretty controversial figure inside the Labor Party, but his resignation overnight means that Labor’s lost four West Australian MPs in five weeks or something. Does Labor have a problem in the west?

CLARE: No I don’t think so. We’ve got some good potential MPs in the wings, including a friend of mine, Tim Hammond. He is one of the Vice-President’s of the Party, a barrister from Perth. A great young man who will be a fantastic Member of Parliament, if he is successful at the next election. Lots of talent in WA, I’ve got no concerns about that at all.

BRISSENDEN: One of the big problems clearly is that Labor won’t allow a conscience vote on gay marriage after 2019. Why not?

CLARE: Look I think this will be done by 2019. I think most people listening would be shocked if we are still here talking about this in 2019. If we win the election this year, legislation will be before the Parliament within 100 days and I’m certain that it will be voted on and passed. If we are still talking about this in 2019, I think the people of Australia will be scratching their heads and thinking why are the politicians so out of date? Why are they still talking about something that most of Australia has already decided is something that should change.

BRISSENDEN: We will leave it there. Jason Clare, thank you for joining us.

CLARE: Thanks mate.