I’m keen to see both the reach rule and the two out of three put forward as a package: Mitch Fifield

Speaking today at a doorstop interview in Canberra, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield told reporters that he is keen to see both the reach rule and the two out of three put forward as a package, but that he will need to be sure of Senate cooperation before putting legislation forward.

While lobbying for a change to the rules is mostly being driven by the television industry, lifting the rule could have significant implications for regional radio networks.

Large regional networks such as SCA could merge with capital city networks, and smaller regional networks could face changes in licence areas, competition and have the opportunity to sell to bigger media operators.

Questioned by journalists about media rules, Fifield said:

JOURNALIST: So is your aim as Minister to maintain, broadly, the current levels of services delivered to regional Australia. Or might you ask in return for relaxation of other laws that broadcasters actually deliver more to their audiences than they currently are?

FIFIELD: Well the bottom line is that we don’t want to see a diminution of what is provided in regional areas at the moment. What else there may be in addition to that, that’s something that we’re currently taking a look at and having conversations with the regional TV operators and with my parliamentary colleagues.

JOURNALIST: When will we see the legislation, Minister?

FIFIELD: Well when I am confident that it has good prospects of passing through the Senate. I think one of the things we’ve learnt over our first couple of years in government is that the starting point for legislation really needs to be the Senate. It shouldn’t be the last thing a Minister thinks about, it should be the first thing a Minister thinks about. Which is why I’m spending time talking to my crossbench colleagues, spending time talking to my own Party Room colleagues as well.

JOURNALIST: Would you be willing to split the bill to allow the passage of the reach rule, if not the two out of three rule?

FIFIELD: Look I’m keen to see both the reach rule and the two out of three put forward as a package. But look the Senate has a mind of its own and it’s the Senate as a whole that ultimately decides whether a package is split or whether a vote is put on a bill as a whole. So I’m keen to pursue a package, and that’s my intention.

JOURNALIST: On the timing issue, can this wait until after the next election if the Senate can’t get its act together? Or are the economic needs of some of the players in this such that it’s got to be done this year?

FIFIELD: I think it’s important to move quickly. There is no question that media laws are outdated. That’s something that’s accepted by my parliamentary colleagues. It’s accepted by media organisations. That being the case, let’s get on and do it so the media organisations can configure themselves in the way that best supports their viability.

JOURNALIST: Minister, given that we’ve known many of the media companies we now have and that employ us for many years, how different do you think the media landscape will look in a year or two compared to the way it is today?

FIFIELD: The media landscape, even putting aside any change in the media law, is changing day by day. We have Nine and Seven who have commenced live streaming, which really is 100% reach. So that in itself renders that particular media law redundant. But I wouldn’t want to predict what the media landscape will be, because it’s changing so quickly.

Asked about the ABC, Fifield said:

The ABC is there to service all Australians, and that includes regional Australia as well. The ABC has a terrific reputation in regional Australia. I think regional radio in particular is much loved by the community. It’s important for the ABC to make sure on an ongoing basis that it is continually reviewing what it does and how it does it, to make sure that it really is servicing all of Australia… the changes to media law that I’m looking at is a separate exercise to the ABC. I’m not currently looking at any legislative or structural change to the ABC.

I encourage my parliamentary colleagues to put forward their ideas as to how the ABC can best service the community. Bridget McKenzie has put forward a private Senator’s bill that has some propositions in it, including mandating a couple of positions on the ABC board to be filled by people from regional Australia. As a private Senator’s bill it doesn’t represent government policy, but I’m very happy for a debate as to how the ABC can best service all of Australia.

Speaking later on Sky Television, Fifield again referred to changes to ABC Regional Radio services:

My point has been that the ABC is there to service all Australians including the regions. There was a bit of an issue at the end of last year when the ABC sought to amend its regional radio formatting which caused some concern in the community. And that just really highlighted to me what a valuable and important role that the ABC plays in the regions. It’s an issue that my parliamentary colleagues are very keen about and you would have seen that Bridget McKenzie, who is a Senate colleague from Victoria, has put forward a private Senators bill to make some suggestions as to how the ABC might be more regionally focussed…

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