House of Representatives

Dr HAINES (Indi) (14:18): My question is to the Minister for Communications.

Minister, small and regional news media publishers are vital to rural Australia. They face unique challenges different to those of the large media corporates. Will the minister commit to amending the government’s news media bargaining code legislation so that its planned 12-month review specifically considers and reports on the impacts of the code on small and regional publishers?

Mr FLETCHER (Bradfield—Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts) (14:19): I thank the member for Indi for her question. The Morrison government certainly shares her view about the importance of regional media. That’s why we committed $55 million under the Public Interest News Gathering Program, with $18 million for regional newspapers, including, in her electorate, the Wangaratta Chronicle, the Mansfield Courier, the Euroa Gazette, the Ovens and Murray Advertiser, the Myrtleford Times, the Alpine Observer and the Benalla Ensign, amongst others. These are regional media outlets which have received support from this government under the wide range of policy tools we’ve introduced this year to support regional media through the challenges of the pandemic and the recession that it has brought.

But of course we are doing more. Our plan to support the comeback of the media sector and the broader economy from the COVID recession of course includes the mandatory code, with legislation introduced into the parliament just today by the Treasurer. This is a powerful policy tool to support diverse, independent Australian media voices, including in regional Australia. It builds on thorough policy work over three years, initiated by the then Treasurer and now Prime Minister with the ACCC digital platforms inquiry. We’ve consulted very extensively with stakeholders, both the news media businesses, large and small, around Australia and the digital platforms. What the mandatory code requires, backed by the force of law, is for Google and Facebook to engage in commercial negotiations with Australian news media businesses on how they should be remunerated for content that they generate and they pay for. Quality journalism costs money and if that content is accessed by Australians through the digital platforms, if it attracts eyeballs to those platforms—which those platforms very successfully monetise; they’re very, very profitable businesses—then it’s appropriate that they should pay remuneration for that. That’s what the mandatory code is designed to achieve.

And, of course, we’ve thought very consciously about the role of regional news media businesses. So there’s a power for news media businesses to bargain collectively with Google and Facebook. We expect that may well be taken up by smaller news media businesses, including those in regional Australia. And there’s also a provision for Google and Facebook to make default offers which, again, we think may well produce outcomes for smaller news media businesses and regional news media businesses.

So the Morrison government shares the member’s commitment to regional media. We’re supporting the comeback of regional media as part of the comeback of our economy from the COVID-19 recession. We are for quality public interest journalism about issues and events of importance to Australia. The news media code will support that.

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