The diary of Communications Minister Mitch Fifield’s first three months in office show lots of meetings with the major media companies as he came to grips with his new role, but none with any consumer groups or those with a differing view on copyright.
He first met multiple times with representatives from ABC and SBS in September, and then in early October held a raft of meetings with the media industry, including with Foxtel, Win, Prime, Southern Cross, Nine, Fairfax and News. In late October he met with Village Roadshow’s co-CEO (most likely Graham Burke). Village Roadshow is the biggest advocate for stringent laws against copyright infringers, and the beneficiary of government grants for film development in Australia.
While Fifield likely met the CEOs and executives from a range of media companies to discuss a variety of issues, including the most pressing issue media companies complain about — ownership restrictions — what’s notable is the absence of any meeting in his first three months in office with consumer groups, tech companies or groups such as Australian Digital Alliance, which have views differing on copyright law in Australia to the major media corporations.
Before Fifield took over responsibility for copyright law from Attorney-General George Brandis, there had been a full suite of copyright reform planned by the government for 2016, but this was abandoned. Gone too was hardline talk from the government in cracking down on copyright infringement, and plans to implement a code with ISPs for users caught illicitly downloading TV shows or films has not returned since. One of Fifield’s first pieces of copyright legislation (mainly to allow libraries to make copies of books in a format for visually impaired readers) originally included a controversial reform to protect companies like Google and others from being liable for what their users upload to their services. It’s law of the land in the US, but it sits in a legally grey area in Australia. There was significant lobbying from Australian copyright lobby groups, a campaign waged in the pages of The Australian and the government withdrew that part of the legislation to allow for more consultation.
Media reform legislation that would remove the two-out-of-three rule for media ownership and the 75% reach rule has passed the House of Representatives but has yet to be debated in the Senate. It is unclear at this stage whether the government has the numbers to pass the bill, and the government and the media companies have been lobbying Labor and the Senate crossbench to support the change.
Fifield’s diary summary for his first three months as minister, provided to Crikey, can be found here.