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Australia’s media sector: What now?

Background to reform of media ownership rules

In early May 2017, the Government announced a consolidated package of reforms for the Australian media sector (see here). A key element of the media reform package is the repeal of two of the five media ownership rules that are currently contained in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) (BSA), that is, the so called “75% reach” and the “2 out of 3” rules. The 75% reach rule prevents a broadcaster broadcasting to more than 75% of Australia’s population and the “2 out of 3” rule prevents one media company or group owning more than two of a commercial television broadcaster, commercial radio broadcaster and an associated newspaper in the one area. It is proposed that these two rules will be repealed by the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Bill 2017 (Reform Bill).

Passage of legislation

The Reform Bill passed the Senate on 14 September 2017 (with amendments) and is expected to sail through the House of Representatives when Parliament re-convenes in mid-October. Subject to obtaining Royal Assent, the Reform Bill should therefore take effect before the end of October 2017.

It has taken a long time for this legislation to be passed by the Australian Parliament. An earlier version of the Reform Bill was first introduced in March 2016 but did not pass before the 2016 election. The Reform Bill itself was introduced on 15 June 2017. The delay in progress of the Reform Bill has arisen from the opposition of the Australian Labor Party and the Greens to the repeal of the 2 out of 3 rule. As the Government does not have a majority in the Senate, it was therefore necessary for the Government to negotiate with the minor parties and the independents in the Senate to ensure the bill was passed.

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