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Government in negotiations on media reform package

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The Australian government is negotiating with the Senate crossbench to secure passage of a reform package that has the potential to vastly change the Australian media landscape.

The long-awaited reforms will modernise current media law and improve the sustainability of free-to-air broadcasting.

However, there is opposition from the Labor Party and the Australian Greens in regard to elements of the package.

The government said the “the reforms are vital to the long term viability of the sector, which provides access to high-quality Australian content that contributes to, and reflects, Australian cultural life”.

Under the reforms, the two-out-of-three law would be abandoned and the reach rule – which restricts media owners broadcasting to 75 per cent of the population or less – will be repealed. Axing the two-out-of-three rule will allow ownership in all of the traditional media channels, television, radio and print by one company.

It is this component to which Labor and the Greens are opposed because of perceived threats to ownership diversity. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party also said during the week it opposed this measure.

The current laws were introduced pre-internet, which blurred the lines between traditional media platforms. Both News Corp Australia and Fairfax Media have utilised the medium of podcast, while also creating high quality video in-house, distributed via their websites.

Free-to-air broadcast annual licence fees which affect television and radio will be abolished under the reforms. The fees that net the government around $130 million annually will be replaced with new annual spectrum fees that will generate $40 million in revenue.

Content on free-to-air services also has featured heavily in the proposed changes, with a focus on sports and children’s programing. Australia’s anti-siphoning laws, which dictate the sports rights that must be offered first to free-to-air broadcasters, will be amended, reducing the list and updating other sections of the law.

The government also will pledge $30 million over four years to paid subscription services that feature women’s and niche sports.

Further restrictions will be placed on gambling advertising during sporting events. The advertising will be banned until five minutes after the conclusion of play or 8:30pm, dependent on which comes sooner. Current exclusions will remain.

Children’s programing will undergo a review by the Department of Communications and the Arts, Screen Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority to ensure the demographic is substantially serviced.

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