Today’s announcement by the ACCC, that it will not oppose Birketu Pty Ltd and Illyria Nominees Television Pty Ltd’s proposed joint bid to acquire Ten Network Holdings Limited, confirms the 2 out of 3 rule cross-media control rule is the key legislative safeguard that maintains media diversity in Australia.
This means the fate of Australian media diversity, the ABC and the SBS is in the hands of the Nick Xenophon Team, now that the Turnbull Government has made a Faustian pact with One Nation on media ownership.
Despite the damage it would do to media diversity in Australia, Nick Xenophon is embedded in negotiations with the Turnbull Government only too eager to cut a deal that would see the 2 out of 3 rule repealed.
As ACCC Chairman Rod Sims acknowledges in the announcement today:
“While this transaction will result in some reduction in diversity across the Australian media landscape,
we have concluded it would not substantially lessen competition, which is the test the ACCC is required to assess acquisitions against”
“The Australian media market is becoming increasingly concentrated…”
This is no great surprise. As Labor has been saying all along, the ACCC is not required to apply a public interest test to media mergers. As an economic regulator, it is not the job of the ACCC to look at issues of pluralism in forming a view on whether a merger will result in a substantial lessening of competition in a market. What is more, the ACCC Draft Media Merger Guidelines are just that – draft – and will have no legal force when finalised.
If Nick Xenophon does a deal with the Turnbull Government on media reform, he will be responsible for handing unprecedented media power to the hands of a privileged few, despite the fact Australia already has one of the most concentrated media markets in the world.
With the proposed changes, media diversity in Adelaide may quickly fall to the minimum number of voices, according to information in the Media control database maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. If Foxtel, Nova, Ten and the ‘Tiser end up carrying the same news, South Australians will have Nick Xenophon to thank for it.
What is more, if Nick Xenophon does a deal with the Turnbull Government on media reform, he will be responsible for the unleashing of an unprecedented attack on our national broadcasters.
Nick Xenophon maintains that he won’t undermine the ABC or SBS but there is simply no denying that he would green-light the One Nation-Turnbull Government plan to undermine the ABC and SBS, if he lends his support to the flawed media reform plan.
While Nick Xenophon claims to care about the ABC, in fact he would be siding with the Government that cut ABC funding in breach of an election promise, then did nothing to restore shortwave radio after it was cut, and now agrees to run a potentially disastrous ‘competitive neutrality’ inquiry into the national broadcasters at the behest of Pauline Hanson.
Last week, Senator Stirling Griff tweeted that “Any suggestion that Nick Xenophon would do a deal on media reform to cut money from ABC or SBS is wrong, wrong, wrong!”
Given that Pauline Hanson has made it clear that she will be going after the ABC’s funding, one can only hope that Nick Xenophon walks away from doing a deal with the Turnbull Government that will have the effect of damaging our public broadcasters.
Further, and given the Nick Xenophon Team claim to be committed to the advancement of women’s sport, you would think they’d be asking some serious questions about the deal to hand $30 million of taxpayers’ money to Foxtel for women’s and niche sports with no strings attached.
Senator Mitch Fifield has set media reform up as an ‘either-or’ proposition, when it isn’t.
Media diversity should not be traded off in exchange for support for independent journalism or community broadcasting when, in fact, our Australian democracy needs all of these things.
If Nick Xenophon were serious about supporting the Australian media industry, he would quit wheeling and dealing and join Labor in demanding that the Turnbull Government dump its flawed proposal to repeal the 2 out of 3 rule while letting the remainder of the reform measures pass through Parliament – including repeal of the 75% reach rule, the abolition of licence fees and the relaxation of the anti-siphoning list and scheme.
It is obvious the Turnbull Government isn’t interested in progress on media reform in the public interest. Labor’s consistent position has been that we will support all elements of the Bill, except for the repeal of the 2 out of 3 rule. Labor has one amendment on the table in Parliament: to save the 2 out of 3 rule in order to maintain media diversity in Australia.