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Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
Senator Richard Alston

Door Stop Press Conference held by Senator Alston

29 August 2001

SUBJECT: MEDIA OWNERSHIP

Journalist:
Minister, there were reports last week that the Government was looking at shifting on the issues of cross media and foreign ownership rules for media. Were those reports correct?

Senator Alston:
Well we have given the matter very serious consideration. I think I can say this to you, that we would consider a comprehensive review of both the cross media and foreign ownership rules.

We would be prepared to grant exemptions in respect of cross media if we obtained undertakings that companies would: maintain existing levels of locally produced news and current affairs in respect of radio and television; and that separate and distinct editorial processes were put in place.

So I think that, in itself, would be very significant step forward. But we would also be prepared to repeal the media specific (foreign ownership) provisions in the Broadcasting Services Act which apply to both free-to-air television and pay television. We would also be prepared to wind-back the percentage limits on print that are currently in place.

That would mean that both the Trade Practices Act and the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act would then govern the media in this country.

And I think that is a recognition, not only of the Productivity Commission's Report that recently said that these rules were anachronistic, and we have been saying that for a long time, but there are some very real opportunities that should open up in the international market place. And we want to see Australian media companies able to take full advantage of those. We want to maximise competition. And I think this is a very important opportunity for these proposals to be looked at very seriously. And I hope that there is widespread support for them as we try and do our best to enter the new information opportunities.

Journalist:
If you are unable to get both cross and foreign through the parliament, would you consider getting one through?

Senator Alston:
Well, I don't think that is a desirable outcome. I think what I have made plain is that both of these are anachronistic restrictions. They don't have any sensible place in a modern media strategy, and they're simply kept there because of political obstruction. And I would therefore hope that we will get widespread support and we can then make judgements based on that about the way ahead.

Journalist:
When would this happen?

Senator Alston:
Well, I am simply making it plain today that that is our position. We have given a lot of consideration to this. As you know we have had a longstanding view on the undesirability of those restrictions but we have always been concerned to ensure that diversity of opinion is there in the market place. We think that is occurring with new media opportunities, but the restrictions that I've just referred to (i.e. the two undertakings) I think cement that protection and I think provide a very real opportunity to move forward. So I hope that what we will be able to see over the next few days is a sensible and measured response across the political spectrum.

ENDS


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