Senator Nick Xenophon says he is not worried that tax breaks for media companies with revenue of less than $30 million would result in coverage by media companies with tax breaks becoming politicised in the same way as the ABC and SBS.

The crossbencher, who controls four of the 10 votes the government needs to pass its media reform legislation, told Crikey that the proposal for tax breaks would work in the same way as tax breaks for research and development — at arm’s length from politicians. The media reform legislation is scheduled to be debated in the Senate on Tuesday.

The government is attempting major reform to the media industry, including removing the two out of three rule, which blocks any entity from owning more than two of a newspaper, TV station and radio station in a single market. The rule is seen as outdated in the modern media landscape, where all media companies are battling for profits against online giants like Facebook and Google.

The government is also considering a proposal from Xenophon to give not-for profit media outlets tax-deductibility status.

What would make companies eligible for the tax breaks is still in the detail to be worked out, Xenophon says. “It’s got to be a genuine media organisation, it’s not a question of where they are on the political spectrum but that they are part of increasing the level of information and debate in our democracy on issues of public concern.” 

Xenophon also wants an inquiry into the power of Google and Facebook in the media industry, saying there are regulatory approaches available to the government or tax levies that could be considered in the future.

On the status of the negotiations, Xenophon said “we’re talking and the government’s listening”.

The government has rejected a proposal by One Nation to conduct a review of the ABC and SBS’s expenditure in exchange for the support of the four One Nation senators. The Greens had previously said they were not willing to negotiate with the government on the reforms, but has come back to the table. The government already has the support of Derryn Hinch, David Leyonhjelm and Cory Bernardi. The Australian reports that negotiations have continued over the weekend, and on Friday Fifield’s office told Crikey the minister was continuing to talk to the crossbench.

A One Nation spokesperson told Crikey: “One Nation is continuing to discuss these matters with industry bodies and the government” but gave no detail as to the state of the negotiations.

Peter Fray

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