Matt Coughlan and Paul Osborne
(Australian Associated Press)
Australia’s media landscape could be set for a major shake-up after the government secured a deal in the Senate for its reform package.
The government clinched support on Wednesday night from Nick Xenophon’s crucial bloc of three votes, making the bill likely to pass the Senate on Thursday.
The overhaul of pre-internet age laws will lift the ban on a person controlling more than two out of three platforms – TV, radio or newspaper – in one licensed market.
It will also repeal the reach rule which prevents a person exercising control of commercial television broadcasting licences whose combined licence area exceed 75 per cent of Australia’s population.
Senator Xenophon’s deal with the Turnbull government will establish a $60.4 million fund for regional and small publishers.
Under the agreement, there will be 30 scholarships a year to study journalism, as well as 50 cadetships at regional and small media organisations with up to $40,000 of wages subsidised by the government.
Between 40 and 45 cadets will have to be employed at regional publications.
The government also agreed to ask the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to hold an inquiry into Facebook, Google and other internet giants’ impact on the media industry.
One Nation agreed to support the legislation in August in exchange for forcing the ABC and SBS to disclose staff salaries of more than $200,000 in separate legislation.
The government also agreed to have the national broadcasters face an inquiry into “competitive neutrality” and the ABC have the words “fair and balanced” inserted into its charter.
Journalist-turned-senator Derryn Hinch will also support the media package, but believes the changes won’t save the print editions of two of Australia’s oldest daily newspapers.
“I think the print editions of the SMH and The Age could be gone by this time next year,” Senator Hinch told ABC radio.
A Fairfax Media spokesman told AAP that Senator Hinch was “seriously mistaken”.
“The actions we have taken to build our company means our print editions will continue for years to come,” the spokesman said.