On Monday 23 February 2016, the Australian Government signalled its intention to move ahead with changes to Australia's media ownership laws by way of a package of reforms that, if enacted, would significantly reshape Australia's media industry. The two major changes to Australia's media laws proposed in the reforms include removing the long standing population "reach rule" and the "two out of three" ownership rule.
The 'reach rule'
The reach rule currently prohibits television networks from broadcasting their content to more than 75% of the country's population. Removing the rule would allow the larger commercial networks in Australia to acquire smaller broadcasters in regional areas and trigger a major round of mergers and acquisitions across the industry. However, as part of the arrangements to remove the reach rule, it is proposed that new laws would be introduced to protect local content in regional areas.
The 'two out of three rule'
The two out of three rule currently prevents media proprietors from owning and controlling a newspaper, television and radio station in the same market. The removal of this rule is likely to be the more controversial of the two changes as it may allow, for example, a major newspaper proprietor to merge with a major television or radio network in Australia and gives rise to long held concerns about a reduction in media diversity across Australia's media landscape.
Changes not included in the proposed reforms
However, changes to Australia's anti-siphoning regime and list, which mandates which sporting events must be shown on free-to-air television, were not included in the Government's package of proposed reforms. The Government's decision to leave the list untouched has been met with disapproval from some of Australia's major media corporations, who had hoped for a significant watering down of the list in an attempt to gain increased sports broadcasting rights.
Enacting the proposed reforms
The Government has argued that the laws as they currently exist are outdated and are not appropriate in today's digital environment. Although there appears to be a lot of support for the proposed changes within the media industry, fears concerning the removal of the laws upon media diversity across Australia's media landscape and the Government's failure to amend the anti-siphoning regime will mean that the reforms may face difficulty in passing both houses of the Australian parliament.