Media ownership reform set to pass Senate

 Nick Xenophon Team leader Senator Nick Xenophon in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, March 23, 2017. AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Nick Xenophon Team leader Senator Nick Xenophon in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, March 23, 2017. AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

The Turnbull government’s long-awaited media ownership reform package is set to clear the Senate after a deal was struck with the Nick Xenophon Team.

The government secured an agreement with Senator Xenophon on Wednesday night, clinching his crucial block of three votes and paving the way for a bill to be rubber stamped on Thursday.

The package’s centrepiece will allow a proprietor to control more than two out of three platforms – TV, radio or newspaper – in one licensed market.

It will also repeal the reach rule, which prevents a proprietor exercising control of commercial television broadcasting licences where the combined licence area exceeds 75 per cent of Australia’s population.

In exchange for Senator Xenophon’s support, the government has agreed to establish a $60.4 million fund for regional and small publishers and increased training for journalists.

“This has been the most difficult, protracted and robust set of negotiations in 20 years of being in parliament – state and federal,” Senator Xenophon said.

Under the arrangement, there will be 30 scholarships a year to study journalism as well as 50 cadetships at regional and small media organisations with up to $40,000 of wages subsidised by the government.

Between 40 and 45 cadets will have to be employed at regional publications.

Treasurer Scott Morrison will ask the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to hold an inquiry into Facebook, Google and the impact other internet giants are having on the media industry.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield believes the overhaul of pre-internet age laws will boost the long-term viability of Australian media.

“This is not 1988, the internet does exist. The media laws were crafted for an era which today is barely recognisable,” he said.

Labor and the Greens are against the “two out of three” rule being scrapped, arguing it will lead to a higher concentration of media ownership.

“Senator Xenophon, you are better than this dirty deal that has been done at the 11th hour,” Labor senator Sam Dastyari said.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said more voices were needed in the Australia media sector, not fewer.

Incentives were also needed to get more journalists on the ground.

“There’s no point training cadets if there are no jobs for them,” he told ABC radio.

The government already had the support of One Nation on the proviso it would introduce separate legislation to force the ABC and SBS to publish the salaries of employees earning more than $200,000.

One Nation won agreement to have the national broadcasters face an inquiry into “competitive neutrality” and have the words “fair and balanced” inserted into the ABC charter.

Senator Di Natale warned the latter risked the ABC becoming Australia’s Fox News.

“One Nation wants to take the axe to the ABC,” he said.

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