Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss. Photo: Photo: Alex EllinghausenNationals leader Warren Truss has backed sweeping changes to the charter and board structure of the ABC, while calling for the public broadcaster to be forced to air television news services in regional areas as well as radio broadcasts.
Mr Truss, currently serving as acting prime minister, also said he would push for local content requirements for commercial television networks to be included as part of a forthcoming deregulation of the media sector.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield is preparing changes to media ownership regulations, which is likely to include scrapping the 75 per cent “reach” rule for television broadcasters and the “two out of three” rule banning companies from owning a television network, radio station and newspaper in the same market. Abolishing the reach rule would allow major television networks to take over regional broadcasters and create national networks.
Nationals MPs are pushing for a new “local presence” requirement to be introduced for regional broadcasters to ensure they continue filming news stories in their local communities. The idea has alarmed some regional TV networks, which see it as overly onerous.
The media ownership debate has also intensified focus on the ABC’s role in regional communities.
“The Nationals are very keen to ensure that there is a local presence and that the privilege of having access to spectrum carries with it an obligation to serve the whole of the country or to serve,in particular, the licence area and that obviously does involve local news services,” Mr Truss said.
“We don’t care particularly who owns the stations, we just want there to be a commitment to deliver local services and to deliver them in an effective way.”
Mr Truss said it was “odd” that the ABC is not required to provide television news services to regional communities.”I think the ABC should have a presence in regional communities that is capable of delivering not just radio news services but also television news services,” he said.
“That would certainly enrich the variety and the capacity of local communities to be well-informed about what is happening in their areas.”
The ABC airs state-based television news services each evening filmed in that state or territory’s capital city.
Mr Truss said he “strongly” supports elements of a private members bill by Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie aimed at making the ABC less focussed on the capital cities.
Senator McKenzie’s bill would require the ABC board to include two members living outside the major cities and the broadcaster’s charter to be amended to include a commitment to regional Australia.
The ABC would also be required to broadcast at least five radio bulletins a day consisting mostly of local news.
Senator Fifield on Wednesday the proposals were not official government policy but he was happy for Coalition MPs to “float ideas” on improving the ABC.
He said local content requirements for regional broadcasters would be a key part of the government’s media reform package.
“There are many regional TV providers who actually present local news and local content in excess of their license requirements so we would want to see in any legislative package mechanisms to ensure that local content is protected,” Senator Fifield told Sky News.
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