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News and Fairfax bosses argue for media reform

Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood and News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller have argued strongly at a summit in Parliament House yesterday in favour for modernisation of Australia’s media laws to allow publishers to compete against the likes of Google and Facebook.

Mr Hywood and Mr Miller were part of 25-strong delegation of Australian media executives across all platforms who are seeking the support of Labor and the crossbench to pass the federal government’s media reform bill.

Labor, the Greens and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation strongly oppose one element – the abolition of the pre-internet two-out-of-three rule, which restricts mergers between companies.

Mr Miller said that without change, the future of regional print media was on the line.

“The intent of Australia’s so-outdated media laws is to protect against the loss of diversity, but in today’s world their actual impact has been speeding up the loss of local content and the loss of local jobs and the loss of community spirit,” he said.

“Rather than guaranteeing more voices are heard, our current rules are guaranteeing those voices have no future channel.

“For many communities those who oppose these media changes are not preserving a choice between this newspaper or that newspaper, they are choosing a future where by a community may have no voice at all.”

To reinforce this point, Mr Miller brought along editors from regional Queensland publications, the Daily Mercury in Mackay, The News in Chinchilla, The Times in Gympie and the NewsMail in Bundaberg, who had compiled a book from their coverage of Cyclone Debbie, called Defying Debbie. The book highlighted exceptional local journalism in light of Tropical Cyclone Debbie and its importance to the community it serves.

Mr Hywood said the changes, as proposed in the reform package, would give publishers the greatest chance to ensure diversity, integrity and independence.

“And we can’t for a minute underestimate the threat to each of those from global giants that are untaxed, unfettered and voracious.

“To the opponents of this package of reforms I say – beware – the failure to act now is likely to have long-term and adverse consequences for Australian journalism and for this industry.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull joined several other media executives at the summit, all standing in solidarity to support the reform package.

Mr Turnbull dubbed the current laws as archaic, saying “[the internet] has completely changed the operating environment of the Australian media”.

In a joint statement, the 25 media executives said that the reforms would be “crucial to bring media regulation into the digital age and preserve the future viability of the sector, which supports more than 30,000 jobs”.

The reform package put forward by Communications Minister Mitch Fifield is designed to modernise the media laws, which have remained unchanged since 1992.

The changes would allow media organisations to move more freely within the media environment and allow commercial outlets to compete with international media organisations in Australia.

Outside of the two-out-of-three rule, the reforms would abolish the 75 per cent reach law, designed to limit dominance of any one media company.

Inclusions are the abolition of TV and radio licensing fees which will be replaced by an annual spectrum fee, and a review of anti-siphoning laws and children’s programming.

There also are restrictions on gambling advertising during live sporting matches, designed to garner support from NXT, led by Senator Nick Xenophon.

The media summit comes after two years of major restructures and job cutting within the Australian media sector. A major restructure earlier this year saw Fairfax shed 125 jobs to help create savings of $30 million, while News Corp Australia restructured its photography model at the same time, resulting in an undisclosed number of redundancies.

The full statements of each executive can be read here.

Mr Greg Hywood, Fairfax Media CEO

Mr Michael Miller, News Corp Australasia executive chairman

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