Australia’s media industry is gearing up for some big changes, after the federal government successfully negotiated a deal with Senator Nick Xenophon to pass its media reforms.
The proposed new media laws have been in limbo for weeks as the government has tried to convince Senate crossbenchers to support the changes, which include repealing the ‘two out of three’ and ‘75 per cent audience reach’ media ownership rules.
The reforms also include the replacement of revenue-based licence fees with a lower spectrum charge.
In return for Xenephon’s support, the government will implement a regional and small publisher’s jobs and innovation package worth $60.4 million over three years.
To assist smaller publishers and to foster diversity, the government will establish a one-off Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund involving $16.7 million worth of grants a year over three years, from the 2018-19 financial year, totalling $50 million.
The government will set up the architecture for the fund such that the first round of grants can be announced no later than 1 June 2018, with the first grant monies to flow from 1 July 2018.
Publishers with an annual turnover of not less than $300,000 in revenue and not more than $30 million in revenue would be eligible. Large publishers such as News and Fairfax are ineligible, along with public broadcasters.
Funding grants would be capped at a maximum of $1 million per year for any media group.
To assist in creating employment opportunities in regional media, the government will establish a regional and small publishers cadetship program.
The government will support these cadetships with a wage subsidy, modelled on the Department of Employment’s existing wage subsidy program.
Eligible organisations would be able to apply for a wage subsidy or grant of up to $40,000 (GST inclusive) per journalism cadet.
Two hundred cadetships will be available for funding over two years, with 100 cadetships available each year. Of the 100 cadetships in a single year, at least 80, but not more than 90 cadetships, will be for regional publications.
Furthermore, Treasurer Scott Morrison will direct the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission to conduct an inquiry into the impact of digital players such as Google and Facebook on media. The inquiry will commence as soon as possible, and not later than 1 December 2017, according to a statement by Xenophon.
The government will also support an amendment by the Nick Xenophon Team to increase the post-trigger event points requirements in smaller (that is, non-aggregated) regional TV markets from 360 points over six weeks to 600 points over six weeks.
The government will grant a further six-month extension for community TV licensees, taking these licences through until 30 June 2018. In the interim, the government will hold a roundtable discussion with the sector to discuss its future.
Finally, The Department of Communications and the Arts and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will conduct a review into the reach of Aussie broadcasting services in the Asia-Pacific region, including examining whether shortwave radio technology should be used.
The review will include public consultation and the report of the review will be made public.
Xenophon wasn’t the only Senate crossbencher to get their way, with the government also striking a deal with Pauline Hanson, whose One Nation Party wants an investigation into the ABC.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the ABC will be subject to a “competitive neutrality inquiry” to find out whether it’s using its status to compete in a way that “isn’t reasonable with commercial organisations”, according to ABC News.
Fifield slammed claims that the ABC was being attacked by One Nation.
“What we have agreed and what we will seek to pursue in relation to the ABC are measures to enhance the ABC,” he said.
ABC News noted that the measures relating to the government-funded broadcaster will be dealt with in a separate piece of legislation.
The ABC will also need to have a “rural and regional” reference in its charter, along with two people on its board who have a rural or regional background.