Senate Committee’s report on Media Ownership Bill

The Senate Committee considering the need for new media ownership laws this week haaas completed its report. The committee has come down in favour of the need for a new Bill, but has recognised concerns about media in regional areas.

The report said: “The Committee accepts that the present restrictions on ownership have limited opportunities to exploit economies of scale and scope and have encouraged the creation of new financial instruments and other arrangements to avoid the regulations. The Committee agrees with the principle that outdated regulation of media ownership should be modified.”

So the report has recommended that the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2002 be agreed to, subject to four recommendations.

1. That where a media company has a cross-media exemption, it be required to disclose its relevant cross-media holding when it reports on issues or matters related to that holding (for example, where there is cross-promotion).

2. Following receipt of the ABA report into local news and information in regional Australia, the Government considers extending its requirement for the provision of local news and information to non cross-media exemption certificate holders in regional Australia. This should be done in a way that enables people in regional Australia to receive news and information about their local communities (including community service announcements), whilst ensuring that there is sufficient flexibility so as not to undermine the financial viability of regional broadcasters.

3. That the Bill be amended so that in regional markets, cross-media exemptions only be allowed in relation to proposals that could result in a media company having cross-ownership in only two of the three generic categories of newspapers, radio and television.

4. That the Government investigate the feasibility of providing appropriate incentives for regional media to provide local content, such as licence fee rebates.

Communications Minster Alston is expected to agree to the four proposed changes.

Despite various newspaper outlets talking up the committee’s decision (which would be favourable for them), the Bill is a long way from being enacted. There will be a redrafting process to reflect the committee’s recommendations, then it must actually go before Parliament to be passed, which may not be an easy task given the current position of the opposition parties. A dissenting report by the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Democrats called for the Bill to be opposed outright.