Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Confusions over Minister Conroy's media changes

Since all hell has broken out in this country over Minister Conroy's proposed media changes, I went searching for official press release last night and then again this morning to find out what the fuss was all about. It wasn't there. Finally, it is up. I thought that I might print it in full to let you form your own views. Comments follow the release.

The Release

"Government response to Convergence Review and Finkelstein Inquiry

Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, today announced reforms that will secure for the Australian public into the future a media sector that is fair, diverse, and produces more Australian content.

The reforms are the Government’s response to the Convergence Review and the Finkelstein Inquiry.

These reforms include:

  • A press standards model which ensures strong self-regulation of the print and online news media.
  • The introduction of a Public Interest Test to ensure diversity considerations are taken into account for nationally significant media mergers and acquisitions.
  • Modernising the ABC and SBS charters to reflect their online and digital activities.
  • Supporting community television services following digital switchover by providing them a permanent allocation of a portion of Channel A.
  • Making permanent the 50% reduction in the licence fees paid by commercial television broadcasters, conditional on the broadcast of an additional 1460 hours of Australian content by 2015.

“These reforms will ensure for the Australian public a media sector that is fair, diverse, and able to tackle the challenges of the future.

“The Government will bring forward a press standards model which ensures strong self-regulation by print and online media organisations.

“Membership to such a body will ensure exemptions from privacy legislation for its member organisations.
“The Government will also bring forward in a separate bill a public interest test in relation to major media mergers and acquisitions.

“The Public Interest Test will ensure that diversity of voices is always considered when media organisations of national significance seek to merge.

“In consultation with the Opposition, the Government will appoint a Public Interest Media Advocate (Advocate).

“The Advocate will decide whether a media merger of national significance can proceed. The Advocate will also authorise the independent self-regulatory body or bodies for dealing with news media standards and complaints.”

“The Government will bring forward a separate Bill dealing with the announced licence fee rebate for television stations and associated issues respect of local content and matters associated with the ABC, SBS and community television.

“The Government will modernise the charters of the ABC and SBS to reflect their online and international activities.

“The Government will secure spectrum for Community television on the sixth channel. It will not be made available for a fourth free-to-air television network.”

“The Government will also establish a parliamentary committee to inquire into three potential further reforms:

  1. The abolition of the 75% reach rule, particularly in relation to regional and local news. If the committee is able to come up with a quick resolution on the 75% rule, the Government would include this amendment in the general package;
  2. On-air reporting of ACMA findings regarding Broadcasting regulation breaches; and
  3. Whether the ACMA should consider program supply agreements for news and current affairs, as part of determining whether a person is in control of a commercial television broadcasting service.

“The Privacy Tort will be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission for detailed examination.

“The reforms announced today are about ensuring for the Australian public a media sector that is fair, diverse, and able to tackle the challenges of the future.

“I want to thank everyone involved in the Convergence Review and the Finkelstein Inquiry for their work.

“I also want to particularly thank the people and organisations who took the time to make public submissions to these inquiries.

Date: 12 March 2013
Contact: Adam Sims 02 6277 7480"


I actually have no idea what all this means. It's partly that it's very skimpy on detail, partly that it puts together very different things in a sort of a rag-bag loosely joined by the notion of media. I don't understand why he felt obliged to do this.

I am also confused by the Minster's tactics in so aggressively saying take it or leave it now. I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that its a bit like those pieces of US legislation where bits that are really irrelevant get tacked on so that those involved are forced to accept the whole package regardless. Perhaps I'm wrong.  

Postscript 18 March

I have attempted to update this post because things have just been so chaotic, in part because of the huge media onslaught on the proposals. This piece from today's Sydney Morning Herald, Media chief questions Conroy's haste on media reforms, will give you a feel. It is quite hard for a blogger like me to provide constant updates to give you a feel as to what's been happening. That role is still best filled by the main stream media.

I said that I was also confused by the Minster's tactics in so aggressively saying take it or leave it now. This really blew up in the Government's face, with the PM first backing Mr Conroy's stance and then signaling willingness to compromise. All very strange.

Postscript 2 18 March

I see that independent MP Rob Oakshott ( "Weak policy and poor process': Oakeshott rejects Gillard's media reforms. There goes the game, surely.


Evan said...

If you think that is bad you should read the arts mess.

Jim Belshaw said...

I have. What's your core objection, Evan?

Anonymous said...

I guess the caravan has moved on from this, but I thought the following piece was a useful summary:

- assuming of course that the author has no barrow to push.

But then I read the comment stream, which seemed to quickly dissolve into the usual right-left posturing and personal attacks.

Like you, Jim, I wonder why the government chose this particular issue and time to introduce this legislation, but that aside, it seems fairly innocuous.

ps the bill to reduce the licence fees passed unanimously. The miracle of democracy continues :)