Self interest will sink media reforms

Self interest will sink media reforms

By Lucy Battersby

A government senator has warned media companies not to let self-interest scuttle industry reform by lobbying against the bill before Parliament.

“I think generally there is agreement in the industry that reform is necessary,” Senator James Paterson said during a discussion at the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association conference in Sydney on Tuesday.

“But if people fight specific reforms like this, it won’t be that we just revisit it in a different way in the future. Parliamentarians will take a view from that, that this is not going to succeed at all.”

Senator Paterson told BusinessDay he believed certain media companies lobbied privately against the bill when it was before Parliament earlier this year because it did not suit their current business plans, but would not name the companies.

He also touched upon the issue most likely to divide industry – the anti-siphoning list. This list of sporting events prevents Foxtel or other subscription channels from holding the broadcast rights to a sport unless a free to air network also has broadcast rights. In theory, this ensures sporting events such as the Olympics and grand finals are not hidden behind a paywall.

“Not speaking on behalf of government, but in my own view … I think we do have to look very closely at anti-siphoning. I’m very open to looking at spectrum [costs] and I think there is a range of ownership laws … all of which have to be looked at because of technological change.”

Before becoming a senator the then Mr Paterson worked for Senator Mitch Fifield, the current Communications Minister, and was a deputy executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs.

Meanwhile ASTRA chairman Tony Shepherd said the pay TV industry wants the reforms to be a “whole package” including changes to the anti-siphoning act and tax breaks for local production.

But, Mr Shepherd said, ASTRA is “not silly” about the anti-siphoning list.

“We recognise there are sacred cows like grand finals, the Ashes Test,” he said.

“We think international sporting events should not be on the list at all. Why should the US Open be on it? Other than the sacred cows, it should be open.”

He has spoken to both Senator Fifield and opposition spokeswoman Michelle Rowland about including changes to anti-siphoning in the media reform. Asked whether industry can find an agreement, which would increase the likelihood of reforms getting Labor’s support, Mr Shepherd said “everybody is slightly unhappy, but they are all there”.

Meanwhile, chairman of Free TV Australia, Harold Mitchell, recently told BusinessDay “No. No. We don’t accept any change at all to the anti-siphoning list”.

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