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Thursday, 14 March 2013
Page: 2098


Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (09:19): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (News Media Diversity) Bill 2013 amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to introduce a public interest test to encourage diversity in the more influential sources of news and current affairs in Australia.

With this bill, the government reaffirms its commitment to protect and promote news media diversity.

Diversity of control of influential sources of news and current affairs is the most effective and reliable means of achieving a strong, independent and vigorous media sector.

It secures a diversity of views, opinions and ideas, and contributes to improved and informed public debate.

There is already a high concentration of ownership within Australia’s media and communications sector.

Revenue shifts to internet-enabled news and increased operational costs have placed a number of television and newspaper businesses under severe pressure—meaning shifts in industry structure and further consolidation of ownership is likely.

To safeguard against consolidation and promote diversity, a new media specific regulatory measure is required.

Such an approach was recommended by the Convergence Review in recognition that existing diversity tests do not cover news services made available on a national basis and may not be fit for purpose, as the influential sources of news and opinion change over time.

The public interest test will assess diversity of control considerations that arise out of transactions between Australia’s largest and most influential news media voices.

The test will be administered by the Public Interest Media Advocate, a new statutory office that will be independent of government.

The advocate will assess whether transactions between registered news media voices will result in a substantial lessening of diversity in news or current affairs.

The test would only engage with transactions that involve two or more separately controlled registered news media voices that both have an auditable audience or a subscriber base above a defined threshold.

To enable certainty amongst market participants, the bill will create a register of news media voices that will be managed by the ACMA.

The register, which is to be made accessible to the public, will list news voices whose audience or subscriber number is above a defined threshold.

The defined threshold allows comparison of news services against commercial television evening news, which currently have the largest audiences and, arguably, influence.

The scheme also includes a mechanism that would allow for inevitable changes in markets where a source of news may gain or indeed lose influence over time.

If a registered news media voice is involved in a transaction that will result in a control event occurring, the transacting parties must receive prior approval from the advocate for that transaction to proceed.

The applicant must satisfy the advocate that the transaction will not result in a substantial lessening of diversity, or that the benefit of the transaction outweighs the detriment constituted by any lessening of diversity of control of news media voices.

In assessing and weighing the potential public benefits, whether a lessening of diversity of control is substantial, or whether to accept an undertaking submitted by an applicant, the advocate might take into account, where relevant, three considerations.

Firstly, the availability and reach of the news media voice, including the amount and type and distinctiveness of news content it provides.

For example, whether its content is syndicated with another news media voice, or the news media voice’s audience share.

Secondly, the extent of commonly controlled registered news media voices within that particular media sector.

For example, commercial radio, or all news media sectors collectively.

Thirdly, the ongoing commercial viability of the news media voice.

Following an assessment, the advocate will decide whether the transaction can or cannot proceed.

A key element of the transaction assessment process relates to the ability for parties to offer court-enforceable undertakings to the advocate.

The ability for a party to offer undertakings will provide flexibility for the transaction to proceed in certain circumstances where it would have otherwise been opposed by the advocate on the grounds that it would result in a substantial lessening of diversity.

It is envisioned that undertakings will address diversity concerns while simultaneously permitting the realisation of merger benefits, such as organisational efficiencies or structural improvements.

Opportunities to vary undertakings will be also available and subject to assessment by the advocate.

The advocate is provided information-gathering powers for the purpose of enabling proper consideration of whether a lessening of news media diversity is likely following a transaction.

It is expected that transacting parties will comply with directions from the advocate, however civil penalties apply to parties that do not comply with requests for information.

The bill includes interim arrangements that have been established to enable the advocate to assess transactions that occurred before the commencement date that may impact news media diversity.

This measure is intended as an anti-avoidance mechanism to reduce the incentive for news media voices to engage in diversity-lessening transactions prior to the bill’s commencement date.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.