The package includes scrapping the two-out-of-three rule that prevents a company controlling more than two of three radio, television and newspapers in an area, and the rule which prohibits a proprietor from controlling a TV licence that reaches more than 75 per cent of the population.
Paul Fletcher, representing Communications Minister Mitch Fifield in the lower house, said the existing rules were antiquated and did little to support media diversity.
“Their removal will allow regulated media companies to achieve greater scale in their operations,” he told parliament.
The government had listened carefully to industry representatives and parliamentarians concerned that mergers and acquisitions could lead to reduced local programming.
In response, the legislation also beefs up local content obligations, with a new points system that will apply six months after a so-called “trigger event”.
Instead of meeting 720 points over six weeks, regional broadcasters will have to meet 900 points but with an incentive for local news to be filmed in a local area.
“Not only is local news and commentary valued, but local content also supports jobs and investment in regional communities where such programming is produced locally,” Fletcher said.
Labor proposed scrapping the reach rule three years ago, but is keeping an “open mind” on the two-out-of-three provision.
“There are strong arguments to say that we should get rid of it if you want to create big, scalable media businesses in the internet age,” Opposition communications spokesman Jason Clare said.
“But equally there are good arguments which say we should keep it if we want to make sure we’ve got as much diversity.”
The package will be the subject of a Senate inquiry.
Fifield says he doesn’t want the package split.
He rejected suggestions the measures would reduce media diversity in Australia, insisting there will still be numerous television and radio stations, as well as newspapers and online platforms.
“I’m particularly untroubled by people who say they’re concerned about a potential lack of diversity,” he said.
Southern Cross Austereo boss Grant Blackley has welcomed the package, saying it will secure local services in regional Australia.
He does not think there will be a “flurry” of mergers and acquisitions, but said it gives his company an opportunity to have the conversation with its affiliates for the first time in 20 years.
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said issues that were pertinent in past decades around regional media were no longer as relevant in the digital age.
He said regional journalists were advocating changes in order to secure their jobs.
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