Australia’s media ownership rules were introduced in 1987 and are widely considered to be outdated. As media has evolved and the means for delivery expanded through different platforms, governments in the past few years have sought to update the legislation, but faced opposition from some regional MPs and other stakeholders. Now the Federal Government has introduced a range of media ownership reforms, which while narrower than previous proposals, will reduce regulatory restrictions on media ownership once enacted.
If passed, the current bill (Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016) will:
There is potential then for some industry consolidation, within the ongoing regulatory restrictions relating to balance or ownership and control, as well as foreign investment regulation. Some traditional media platforms could be consolidated or alternatively metropolitan television broadcasters could combine with regional operators.
In relation to local content the current requirements would be maintained, requiring broadcasters in specified rural areas to adhere to points system of local content delivery per week. This is usually achieved by broadcasting news content relevant to the local area. Under the new bill, additional local content requirements would apply where a commercial television licence holder reaches more than 75 per cent of the Australian population. This may provide an incentive for regional operators to maintain local news production as part of any consolidation with metropolitan broadcasters.
The new bill must now be passed by the Senate and this may trigger the requirement for further compromise by the Government. Media operators will continue to be regulated by the remaining ownership and control rules in the broadcasting legislation, limiting extensive changes in media ownership. Given this environment, media reform will remain on the agenda into the future.