Media reforms pass lower house; Foxtel CEO says diversity concerns misguided

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 21 June 2017
Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh says politicians should focus on protecting Australian voices.

The Greens are open to backing the government's media reform package in the senate if they are given more time to consider further protections for media diversity as the package passes its first hurdle in the House of Representatives today.

It is understood communications minister Mitch Fifield wants to press ahead with a senate vote next week although it is unlikely the bill will get through the Senate before Parliament's winter recess.

Meanwhile, Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh tells AdNews he believes The Greens could eventually back the reforms, but not in this sitting. He says opponents' concerns about diversity of voice are a "gross misunderstanding" of how the media operates and politicians should be more concerned about protecting Australian voices.

At present, the government needs to either convince One Nation or The Greens to back it's reforms package to pass the upper house.

All senators broadly support media reforms but Labor, The Greens and One Nation are opposed to one part of the package, repealing the two-out-of three cross-media ownership rule, which prevents a media company from owning a newspaper, radio station and TV network in the same market. They argue removing could lead to media concentration and a lack of diversity in voice.

Instead of binning the two-out-of three rule, One Nation wants to replace it with a three-out-of-four rule, which brings Pay TV into the mix.

The Greens and Labor want to strip out two-out-of-three with Labor arguing it should remain and The Greens open to discussing proposals to guarantee media diversity if it is repealed. The Greens want more time to consider alternatives, which may not be forthcoming.

Diversity fears: 'a gross misunderstanding'

Foxtel boss Peter Tonagh tells AdNews concerns about a lack of media diversity are misguided and if the bill isn't passed it will only end up with fewer Australian media companies competing with international digital rivals.

“This is a gross misunderstanding in the way the media works,” Tonagh says. People get hung up on diversity and that these rules are about diversity of voice.

“My personal view is that diversity of voice is one thing but having Australian voices is the other. The challenge for us is not about diversity of voice, we've got plenty of voices and there's more websites now than ever before including many global ones.

“It's Australian voice we're fighting to protect. The global players have global scale whereas the Australian players aren't going to have global scale. They need to have the scope rather than scale, which means being able to share your content across multiple platforms because that is the way in which consumers consume content.”

Tonagh's last point merely reinforces a growing trend for media companies to push their content across multiple traditional and media platforms.

Trying to restore a siloed approach to media, as the two-out-of-three rule does, is completely at odds with the way media is evolving and people are consuming content.

For example, throughout the day a consumer might check their smartphone when they wake up, read a newspaper with their morning coffee, use desktop while at work, listen to the radio on the way home and watch television in the evening.

“You've got to have that cross-platform availability to really be able to tap into what consumers are doing these days,” Tonagh says.

If media reforms are defeated, Tonagh fears it could lead to more major media players struggling to survive. “The risk is quite significant but no-one really wants to recognise it,” he adds.

What is clear is that no media organisation is going to tolerate stripping out any provisions.

“Everyone compromised in order to get where we've gotten to and if one party moves away from that compromise everything will fall apart,” Tonagh adds.

“My personal view is nothing is going to happen this week but I wouldn't rule out coming up with some success with The Greens.”

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