Government accused of sitting on media reforms

'Without prompt action much of our regional media may well disappear leaving a vacuum that may not be filled,' Senator Rex Patrick says. Picture: Jamila Toderas
'Without prompt action much of our regional media may well disappear leaving a vacuum that may not be filled,' Senator Rex Patrick says. Picture: Jamila Toderas

Key senators have called for action to save regional media, as the Morrison government has been accused of sitting on reforms that could help local news services survive.

Regional media companies - including ACM, the publisher of this newspaper - have joined forces to call for changes to media ownership laws, so local news services can better face the challenges posed by metropolitan media and global internet giants.

The Save Our Voices campaign asks government to relax the voices test and loosen the one-to-a-market rule to allow companies to merge to survive.

The call comes more than a year after government was handed a report from retired PwC partner and media and telecommunications industry leader Megan Brownlow, who recommended scrapping the rules to place regional news organisations on more equal footing.

The government has since commissioned two more reports into the state of the sector, bringing its spend on consultants to $330,000.

Greens media and communication spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the government had a "bad habit of sitting on reports and reviews, keeping information from the public and holding up reforms".

"Regional media was in crisis before COVID-19 but the pandemic has exacerbated it with newspapers and broadcasters shutting their doors in droves this year," Senator Hanson-Young said.

"It's deeply concerning that many regional and rural communities are facing the prospect of having no local paper, radio station or TV news broadcast.

"If the government has information about measures which could help the industry then they should release it so it can be properly considered."

Independent senator Rex Patrick said he would keenly support changes to ensure the ongoing viability of regional media.

"Media reform is always complex with issues like audience reach, cross media make-up, competition and foreign investment playing a part, and so needs to be carefully considered," Senator Patrick said.

"Nonetheless, the government needs to act to preserve the regional media landscape and in doing so it should be considering the recommendations of the 2019 Brownlow report into media laws, as well as the ACCC's Digital Platforms Inquiry, and also working with the crossbench and Opposition.

"This is an urgent matter. Without prompt action much of our regional media may well disappear leaving a vacuum that may not be filled."

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has said the government was still working on its platform-neutral regulatory framework for media.

"We continue to keep under review the question of whether there should be Australian spend requirements on streaming services like Netflix and Disney +, and that there will be further stages of work towards media reform, consistent with what we said in our December 2019 response to the ACCC's Digital Platforms Inquiry," he said earlier this week.

The government had already enacted significant changes to media ownership laws, Mr Fletcher said.

However, Labor leader Anthony Albanese said regional media had been "forgotten" in those reforms.

"Without reform we know there will actually be less voices in the regions," Mr Albanese said.

This story Government accused of sitting on media reforms first appeared on The Canberra Times.