The fourth estate needs to be supported: Nick Xenophon

Tonight’s federal budget will bring media reform across a range of areas including the abolition of licence fees and relaxation of ownership rules.

However, it will require support from independents to pass the Senate.

A key player in the Senate is Nick Xenophon, who is likely to support the government’s media reforms if it improves the ability of Australian media to compete with digital media companies such as facebook and google “who don’t employ one journalist in this country,” and if it improves the quality of journalism, especially in regional media.

He has told radioinfo:

“We want to ensure that there is strong regional content in particular in my home state of South Australia because bulletins that were lost in terms of the south east and the Riverland, that made a big impact on those communities…

“But above all, if you want Australian media to flourish, for journalists to be employed, for there to be a strong diverse robust media voice in this country, you actually need to tackle the issue of Facebook and Google and the $3.2 billion they take in advertising revenue by cannibalising the content of existing media outlets. That is something we will be putting to the Government.

“Every media company I speak to understands the importance of long-term reform. That will make a big difference for the long-term viability in Australia.

“The fourth estate needs to be supported. It is a pillar of our democracy and right now it is being compromised because Facebook and Google, who don’t employ one journalist in this country, are cannibalising existing media content, and making an absolute killing and paying stuff all tax in the process.
It is an existential threat to the media in this country.”

In a press conference in Canberra yesterday, Xenophon was asked “when you talk to Mitch Fifield, will you be urging him to consider something to target these media giants [facebook and twitter] as part of his current package of reforms?” He replied:

The short answer is – absolutely. This is something I’ve raised with Senator Fifield.

Unless we tackle Google and Facebook head-on, Australian media is going to go down the path of more pressure, more jobs being lost, more journalists being sacked, more camera operators and photographers losing their jobs, because they are hoovering away $3.2 billion in ad revenue. And they do it because they cannabilise the content of Australian journalists, of Australian media organisations, of the intellectual property and skill of all those involved in making the news and providing content.

I regard Facebook and Google as the Dutch East India Company of the 21st century. They behave, some would say, in the way the Dutch East India Company did when they had a monopoly on trade groups and used their enormous market power accordingly…

We want there to be a long-term solution to ensure the viability of Australian media. You won’t have that long-term viability whilst Facebook and Google are able to hoover up $3.2 billion in ad revenue by cannibalising the content of Australian media organisations.

Guess how many journalists they employ in this country? Not one and it’s about time we dealt with that.

Now whether it’s the case of additional taxation, turnover taxes, copyright approach that the European Union is looking at, or an anti-trust approach suggested by The Economist – all of those need to be on the table.

I want there to be an outcome on this, otherwise there won’t be too many journalists and media organisations left in the next 5-10 years.


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