ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has launched a strident defense of regional media organisations, expressing strong opposition to a mooted watering down of media ownership laws.
The ACT government has made a submission to the federal government’s inquiry into broadcasting, online content and live production to regional and rural Australia, with Mr Barr saying the power and significance of local media content could not be underestimated.
“Local production of all types of media, with strong and diverse local content, is an important mechanism for community identity and cohesion,” he said.
“The capacity for a diverse range of voices to speak into and out from their communities is also a linchpin of our modern democracy.”
Since the submission was written, federal cabinet has agreed to a package of reforms presented by Communications Minister Mitch Fifield that includes scrapping the population “reach rule” and the “two-out-of-three” ownership rule.
But Senator Fifield, who is still preparing legislation, has yet to publicly announce the government’s policy.
In his submission, Mr Barr said although he supported the general principle of deregulation, recent commentary of proposed media reforms had raised some concerning prospects.
“The ‘reach’ and ‘two-out-three’ media ownership laws stipulated in current legislation are important safeguards to ensure that the important social and cultural role that media plays in our society is appropriately balanced against business and commercial imperatives,” he said.
“The ACT government is opposed to watering down these provisions. A diversity of voices in regional and rural broadcasting and production should be preserved and supported.”
Mr Barr said events such as the 2003 Canberra bushfires showed local media services were vital in keeping the community informed in times of crisis.
As a regional centre, the ACT was aware of some of the challenges facing regional communities and “even in a region with the nation’s capital at its heart, the divide between rural and urban communities is a persistent and significant challenge”, he said.
Mr Barr said the ACT government had in the past strongly lobbied against the exit of key commercial media providers from the Canberra region.
“We have felt the decline in representation that followed as consequence,” he said in his submission.
“Regions like ours should be protected from further loss of representation.
“This inquiry provides a valuable opportunity for the committee to unambiguously affirm the importance of broadcasting and local content to rural and regional communities, to call for greater support of regional and rural broadcasting and to argue against any movies that threaten the needs of regional and rural Australia.”