The race for media reform is on.
The legislation was released today and MPs are madly thumbing through it ahead of votes in both houses of Parliament next week. A Green, an ex-Labor MP, an ex-Coalition MP, three independents and Bob Katter will decide its passage. Crikey assesses how they’ll vote …
Adam Bandt (Greens)
The Greens are crucial to the passage of this bill. Adam Bandt is a critical vote in the lower house and the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate. Much of the media has suggested the Greens are likely to support the bill based on Scott Ludlam’s comment that ”if it turns out that it’s better than nothing then I’d be advising my colleagues that we pass it”.
Ludlam told Crikey this afternoon the emphasis is on “whether it turns out that it is better than nothing”. The Greens will push for a Senate inquiry, concerned the legislation allows for the creation of multiple self-regulatory bodies.
Verdict: Media reform is a big issue for the Greens and they’re unlikely to get any reform through under a Coalition government. Likely to support.
Peter Slipper (independent)
Slipper has had his own well-documented problems with the media (in particular the News Limited press) and is sympathetic to the need of a beefed up media umpire. He has previously stated in Parliament last month:
“I rise in the House tonight to mourn the loss of media diversity in Australia. More and more, we seem to have a concentration of ownership of media outlets — and that presents a real danger for Australia’s democracy. The smaller the number of newspaper and other media owners there are, the less opportunity the Australian people will get to hear a range of points of view and so they will be less able to form opinion on the basis of facts that are put before them.”
In a statement released to Crikey this afternoon he stated:
“I am sympathetic to the desperate need for reform in the interest of balanced reporting and diversity of ownership in both print and electronic media including TV. Reform is necessary in the interests of the Australian people receiving balanced reporting of news. If anyone need convincing of the importance of the reforms, a quick glance at yesterday’s Daily Telegraph coverage should dispel any uncertainty. I strongly support the appointment of a Public Interest Media Advocate but await a detailed briefing on the matter. I will then determine my position.”
Verdict: Expect him to find a way to make the legislation work. Likely to support.
Tony Windsor (independent)
Windsor is keeping his cards close to his chest. Speaking to Fran Kelly yesterday morning he said: “Still have some homework to do on it. Neither in nor out.” And speaking to PM last night when asked whether he could support the legislation he stated:
“Not on the detail that I have at the moment and I’m getting some advice back on a number of the issues. I’m not in the sort of News Limited camp that this has been the greatest affront to democracy that anybody’s ever envisaged.”
But he went on:
“I don’t have a problem with the issue of the advocate, the public interest test and I don’t think most people in the media do either. If there’s problems with interpretation well people should come forward but I don’t think vomiting on the Minister and that business on the front page of The Telegraph yesterday did anybody in the media’s case any good.”
He puts the chances of the government’s chances of passing the legislation at around 40%.
Andrew Wilkie (independent)
Wilkie released a statement on Tuesday stating:
“I’m approaching the federal government’s media reform proposals with great care and will only support them if they are genuinely warranted and well crafted.”
His spokesman advises he’s meeting with Stephen Conroy and industry stakeholders like the heads of the Nine and Ten networks. The MP is apparently undecided and remains concerned about protecting free speech from political interference.
Verdict: Seems to be line ball but his concerns with the legislation don’t seem to be fatal. Undecided.
Bob Katter (Katter’s Australia Party)
Katter seems to have typically bamboozled the media with his position. He was quoted as supporting the legislation in order to curb “bias press”; then that he’d do “everything humanly possible” to stop the changes because they would increase the dominance of news produced in the major cities. His spokesperson told Crikey:
“We are looking at significant amendments. Further concentration of television stations is unacceptable. We want to get a protection of regional media. We don’t want to see a situation where Mount Isa receives its news from Brisbane. We will need to see the legislation but we don’t we could support it in its current form.”
Rob Oakeshott (independent)
Was quick out of the gates with a rejection of the proposed legislation on Twitter:
“Disappointed in media reform package. Such a long way from Convergence. Reach rule unclear, no tort of privacy, for example.”
He’s another MP who has had an ongoing battle with News Ltd over its coverage. He’s done a range of media interviews and at this point seems to be suggesting he is against the legislation without significant changes.
Verdict: Unlikely to support.
Craig Thomson (independent)
Despite his history of run-ins with the media (including action to sue Fairfax for defamation which he then withdrew), Thomson says he won’t support the legislation. The first hint came when he retweeted Oakeshott’s comment on Tuesday.
Verdict: Won’t support.
Tony Crook (WA National Party)
Although a member of the WA Nationals he continues to sit on the crossbenches. His statement to Crikey reads:
“In my opinion, these media reforms have been rushed and until today, the government has provided very little information. The idea that Senator Conroy wants these rushed through the House in the current two sitting weeks, or not at all, seems very bizarre to me. Surely, if these are real reforms the government believes will work and make the system better, he should be prepared to take the time to get them right and not rush them through the House. I believe in media freedom, and I won’t be supporting the government’s proposals.”
Verdict: Won’t support.
So what does that mean? The government has some work to do. If Slipper and Bandt do back the legislation, Labor probably still needs two of Windsor, Wilkie and Katter on its side.