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Thursday, 28 June 2012
Page: 4996


Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (02:20): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Senator LUDLAM: I table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Public Interest Test) Bill 2012 will create a new Part 5A in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 for a public interest test applying to changes in control of nationally significant media enterprises.

Australia has the most concentrated media ownership in the Western world. A strong democracy requires independent and diverse media and who controls the media is a matter of national interest. Between them, News Limited and Fairfax Media dominate the news landscape, with only one metropolitan newspaper not owned by either. The Australian Greens believe the current concentration of media ownership is corrosive of the fabric of Australian democracy.

There have been numerous inquiries and reviews in recent decades into media ownership. The concept of a public interest test in relation to control of significant media interests is not a new idea but one that that now must be acted upon in the national interest.

The purpose of a public interest test is not to eliminate bias in media. Bias is normal. Bias is expected, and in a diverse media ecosystem, an untidy tangle of contested biases are a sign of good health. Bias is only a problem when concentration of ownership contracts to the extent it has in Australia today. A tiny handful of media groups own and control most media outlets in Australia, and while Australians may be getting our news and opinion on a much wider range of devices and platforms, existing interests are moving swiftly to entrench their incumbency into the converged world. The Bill is an important response to our current situation.

As recommended by the Convergence Review, the Bill will apply to media operations of "national significance". These entities will be defined as organisations that hold television and radio broadcast licences, including subscription services, or own newspapers, as already defined in the Broadcasting Services Act, that have:

control over the media content they deliver;

an Australian audience of at least 500 000 per month; and

a minimum revenue of $50 million per year derived from supplying media content in Australia.

The Convergence Review indicates such a definition would capture the 15 largest established media organisations in Australia, including New Limited, Fairfax, the commercial television and radio broadcasters, and Foxtel.

The public interest test will apply where a person becomes in a position to exercise control of a media operation of national significance on or after 28 June 2012, that is today.

Whether a person becomes in a position to exercise control of a media operation will be determined under the current definition of control in Schedule 1 in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 including that control is deemed when a person has a 15% interest in a media company. The public interest test will also be triggered if a person with at least a 10% stake in a media company is appointed to the Board and in the event of a takeover bid under Chapter 6 of the Corporations Act 2001 .

In the absence of a new communications regulator as recommended by the Convergence Review, under the Bill the Australian Communications and Media Authority will be responsible for applying the public interest test.

A person who becomes in a position to exercise control of a media operation of national significance will be responsible for informing ACMA. The matters to be taken into account by ACMA in applying the test include:

whether the person's position to exercise control will diminish the diversity of unique owners providing general content services as well as news and commentary at a national level;

whether the person's position to exercise control will diminish the range of content services at a national level;

whether the person's position to exercise control will represent a significant risk that the media operation will not comply with its obligations;

the likely impact on editorial independence for the media operation;

the likely impact on free expression of opinion; and

the likely impact on the fair and accurate presentation of news.

These matters include those recommended by the Convergence Review and matters recommended by the ACCC in their submission to the Productivity Commission inquiry into media ownership in 1999. These matters will cover situations where a person seeks to control a media organisation of national significance to pursue his or her other commercial interests.

The cross media ownership laws will continue as they currently are until broader reform is implemented. The ACCC will also continue its role in relation to anti-competitive mergers and acquisitions.

The Bill will provide for ACMA to publish guidelines on the application of the public interest test. The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 already provides for ACMA to fulfil its function in an open and transparent manner including providing for the making of submissions and the possibility of public hearings. Decisions of ACMA in relation to the public interest test will be reviewable by the courts.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

Senator LUDLAM: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.