HISTORIC media law reforms are all but set to pass after the Federal Government struck a crucial deal with Senate powerbroker Nick Xenophon last night.
The competition watchdog will investigate the impact of digital giants on Australian media, while the government will provide grants for investigative journalism and cadetship programs in the regions under the deal.
It follows intense days of negotiations between Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and Senator Xenophon.
The agreement will see the reforms almost certain to pass the Senate today, including scrapping the controversial “two-out-of-three rule”, which prevents a company controlling more than two of the three traditional segments of the media — radio, television and newspapers — in one market.
Senator Xenophon last night said Treasurer Scott Morrison had agreed to direct the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to conduct an inquiry into the impact the digital realm had on Australian media, with an interim report due in 12 months and a final report within 18 months.
“Specifically the impact of digital search engines, social media platforms and other digital content aggregation platforms on competition in media and advertising markets,” he said.
Additionally, an innovation fund of $50 million over three years will be provided for regional and small publishers, whose turnover is between $300,000 and $30 million a year. This will exclude big publishers such as Fairfax and News Corp, publisher of The Courier-Mail.
The money must be used for improving civic and investigative journalism, with grants limited to $1 million. The first round will be announced by June 1, 2018.
Additionally 60 journalism scholarships in regional Australia, worth $40,000 each, will be funded through “premiere media and journalism training institutions”.
Similarly, regional and small publishers will be able to access a wage subsidy for cadets journalists. Up to 200 subsidies worth $40,000 over two years will be on offer.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the reforms were for the entire media industry.
“This will ensure we have strong Australian media voices into the future,” he said.
The Government clinched a deal with One Nation in August, which would see ABC and SBS staff salaries of more than $200,000 revealed and see “fair and balanced” coverage inserted into their charters.
More than 25 media bosses, including the heads of News Corp, Foxtel, Fairfax Media, the Nine Network, Seven West Media, and Ten Network, were in Canberra in May to lobby for reform.