SUBJECT: Media ownership.
EMMA ALBERICI: Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Communications Minister and she joins me now from Canberra. Welcome Michelle Rowland.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Thank you.
ALBERICI: Can I just check with you that the changes being proposed to the ABC being demanded by One Nation in return for its support for this bill have been decoupled from the media reform legislation?
ROWLAND: Emma we're waiting to see what amendments are actually put to the Senate in that regard. However it's important to recognise that there are some elements of that deal with Senator Hanson that actually don't require legislative change. So whilst there would need to be, for example, a change to the ABC Act for some of those elements, for others including the convergence inquiry that they are having into competitive neutrality. That, for example, is one that wouldn't need to be legislated, so it remains to be seen how they will actually be decoupled and how they will actually go to a vote.
ALBERICI: Now, you haven't supported these reforms which do look like they have made their way through or will do very shortly. I'm wanting to understand, with America's Facebook now the number one source of news for as many as 60 to 80 per cent of Australians, why does it still make sense to restrict the reach of Australian media companies in Australia?
ROWLAND: Emma we've made it very clear, and you talk about reach and that leads as a start to the reach rule, Labor is very prepared to repeal this as a piece of regulatory housekeeping. On the issue of the 2 out of 3 rule, we look at the fact that of the top 10 news sites in Australia, 7 of them are actually controlled by traditional media companies. So even with the advent of the digital age in which we are in and one in which convergence is making those lines of delineation more blurred, it still remains a fact that even though you may have a greater amount of accessibility, a greater proliferation of news sources, that is not necessarily a greater proliferation of voices and that came in fact from the government's own Department of Communications.
ALBERICI: But you would have to admit that the 75 per cent of the Australian population and the 2 out of 3 rule, which are very similar, are designed to restrict the reach of Australian media companies and it's hard to see how that's fair when Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat and more can reach 100 per cent of the population. I mean they've already snared much of the advertising revenues.
ROWLAND: Well, the 2 out of 3 rule is designed so that you cannot control all of an associated newspaper, radio and TV in a particular market. But that doesn't negate the fact, Emma, that you actually have multi-platform sources that are being used by those traditional media companies already and, as I said, you look at the evidence and the evidence is that what we would call those older traditional voices are simply the same voices on different platforms in Australia.
ALBERICI: Is it a good idea do you think, as the government seems to have decided with Nick Xenophon, to give small media players in Australia up to $1 million each in cash injections from the government?
ROWLAND: Well, there's two points here Emma. Firstly, the deal that is on the table is one in which Nick Xenophon must decide how he goes has some very detrimental impacts on the ABC. That is the deal that is on the table tonight, because agreement was reached between the government and One Nation that One Nation would give its support to this bill in return for these detrimental changes to the ABC. So that's the first point.
ALBERICI: Which changes in particular are concerning to you?
ROWLAND: A number of them are. In particular, the competitive neutrality inquiry.
ALBERICI: It's just an inquiry.
ROWLAND: It's an inquiry which will provide recommendations. It's one which the government is pushing and pushing an agenda, quite frankly, that has been anti-ABC since the 1930's. It’s one which seriously threatens to undermine the ABC and SBS and reduce them to some sort of failed market broadcasters. And also, I'm particularly concerned about the requirement to insert the fair and balanced requirements that Senator Hanson is looking for. Particularly, when you consider even her own Senator when asked 'Well does this mean that the ABC would be required to give equal time to anti-vaxxers?' replied 'Absolutely'. So what’s next? Equal time for white supremacists and climate change deniers?
ALBERICI: Let me draw you back to the original question, which was 'do you think it’s a good idea to give cash handouts to small struggling media players', cash handouts from the government?
ROWLAND: And my second point to answer your question there is this should not be an either-or proposition. Yes, we do need to support the content creation side but this should not be at the expense of diversity.
ALBERICI: So you think it is a good idea to be giving cash injections to commercial companies?
ROWLAND: I think it is a good idea to support the creation of local content.
ALBERICI: But that is government money going to commercial operations.
ROWLAND: Precisely. The principle of supporting that content side is one that is sound. Whether or not this proposal is sound from Senator Xenophon, and bear in mind I haven't seen the full details because all we know is what is being reported, you would also need to put that in the context of the fact that this is coming out of an inquiry by the Senate into public interest journalism. One that is still ongoing, hasn't even concluded yet, hasn't even reached recommendations. So it is really a wrong end of the telescope way in which to be formulating policy in this area.
ALBERICI: I just wanted to draw you back to this idea of giving handouts to commercial media companies. I mean who will decide which organisations get that money and how do you ensure that the investments aren't used as carrots or sticks to beat or reward newsgroups who do or don't do the right thing by any particular government? Just a quick response please.
ROWLAND: They are excellent questions and they are ones in which we are in fact going to put to the government tonight in our consideration in detail speeches.
ALBERICI: Okay, unfortunately we have to leave it there. Michelle Rowland, thank you.