Last week, the Senate passed the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Bill 2017. With the upper house voting 31-27 for the media law reform, the decision came weeks after negotiation between the Coalition and the Senate crossbench. One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson and Senator Nick Xenephon, who put forward conditions for their support of the proposal, earned their share of the potential three-pronged deal. Communications Minister Mitch Fifield received the necessary support from at least 10 independent senators to pass the Broadcasting Reform bill. This is the most significant media reform in nearly three decades.

Background

The last major media law reform happened in 2006 where four bills were passed during the Howard government. This was a marked shift from the reforms in Broadcasting Services Act 1992 during the time of Treasurer Paul Keating. The media reforms included the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2006, Broadcasting Services Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2006, Communications Legislation Amendment (Enforcement Powers) Bill 2006 and Television Licence Fees Amendment Bill 2006. Among these, the Howard government abolished curbs on foreign ownership, as well as the change of the one-out-of-three rule to a two-out-of-three rule. The necessity of these reforms were further pushed as a result of Channel TEN’s financial woes. You can read more about Channel TEN falling into voluntary administration by checking out our previous post.

What is the three-pronged deal?

The three-pronged deal involved a Government Package, and One Nation Party side deal, and Nick Xenephon’s Team side deal.

The Government’s Package

Changes

1. The two-out-of three rule and the the 75% audience-reach rule have been repealed. The new media ownership rule allows a company to control a TV network, newspaper and radio station in a single market, which has been argued to affect the diversity of media information. The scrapping of the “reach rule” will allow a TV broadcaster to reach more than 75% of the population.

2. The broadcasting licence fees and datacasting charges have also been abolished.

3. A new annual spectrum fee for broadcasters will be applied and estimated to raise about $40 million.

4. The anti-siphoning scheme and list will be amended as part of the Government package.

Additional

1. More restrictions will be placed on gambling ads surrounding live sport events.

2. A review of Australian and children’s content will take place.

3. More funding to support the broadcasting of women’s and niche sports.

One Nation Additional Deal

The One Nation side deal involved the disclosure of ABC and SBS staff salaries which exceed above $200,000. The party also won the deal to make laws on ABC News to distribute ‘fair’ and ‘balanced’ information, and a commission inquiry surrounding the ‘competitive neutrality’ of media. ABC must also ensure two of its board members come from rural areas. Further successful deals for the One Nation Party included: setting up register of foreign ownership interests in media, and the funding of an additional $12 million to community radio.

Nick Xenephon’s Team Additional Deal

Nick Xenephon’s Team also won a side deal in the new media reform laws. A total of $60.4 million will fund regional and small publisher’s jobs over the next three years. The funding will provide 200 cadetships, with as much as $40,000 granted to each. Sixty scholarships will be offered with the aim of training regional Australians in Journalism. Furthermore, NXT won the deal to commission a competition inquiry into the impact of social media platforms like Facebook and Google on Journalism. Further measures will be taken to enhance local content in smaller regional markets and a further six-months extension will be allowed for community TV licensees.

Final Thoughts

The media law reforms will have a large impact on media broadcasting and diversity, providing better opportunities for Australian media companies to compete with large online media outlets. The media law reforms will also provide better opportunities for Australians from rural areas to enter media and broadcasting industries.

Elie Choueifaty

Elie is a legal intern at LawPath assisting the content team to produce legal guides and blogs that facilitate for the access of legal service. With an interest in media, criminal, and family law, Elie is currently completing a Combined Bachelor's Degree of Communication (Journalism) and Laws at the University of Technology, Sydney.