The Turnbull government’s proposed changes to media ownership laws passed the House of Reps late yesterday and now face the familiar gauntlet of a sceptical Senate, which has already knocked them back because of the media ownership (the so-called “voices”) section.

The changes will end, if finally approved, the so-called reach rule, which prohibits a company controlling commercial TV licences that reach more than 75% of the population. Seven and Nine don’t really care for that change; in fact, they want the elimination of all fees charged by the federal government.

The changes also removes the two-out-of-three rule, which prevents an owner controlling more than two of three radio stations, TV stations and newspapers in one area. While News Corp wants that to happen — the only way its purchase of the regional papers of APN might be cleared is by having this hurdle lowered — the bigger question is a sceptical ACCC.

The ALP agrees with repealing the reach rule but voted down the bill because it does not support getting rid of the cross-media ownership rule and unsuccessfully tried to split the bill, but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Communications Minister Senator Mitch Fifield insisted it remain one package.

It will again be left up to the Senate crossbench to decide if the changes get through. And after the compromising on the backpacker’s tax and the ABCC and Registered organisations bills, a deal might emerge.

But the changes are the last thing the analogue media wants to see. The changes will do little to help them offset falling revenues, the big companies are focused on cutting costs (News Corp has more than $40 million planned by June 30 next year and Fairfax is expected to decide the fate of its metropolitan mastheads and their print editions by then as well).

Messrs Turnbull and Fifield will spin these proposed changes, once again, as promoting competition. They won’t — they spell more cost cuts, job losses and less media voices, not more — and less for consumers, many of whom are leaving anyway. It’s called shutting the door, but the horse has well and truly bolted. — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey