Call for 'redundant' reach rule to be abolished

A PARLIAMENTARY committee has called for the 75% reach rule for television to be scrapped, describing it as "redundant" in the new media landscape.

The Joint Broadcasting Committee was asked to examine three broadcasting reform proposals in March when the government attempted to ram its ill-fated media reform legislation through the Parliament.

Under the reach rule, one person cannot control commercial television broadcasting licences that reach more than 75% of the population.

In supporting the rule's abolition, the committee found this should only happen if legal protections were put in place local content in regional Australia.

This would include establishing a clear definition of local content to ensure regional viewers had access to appropriate levels of high quality, locally devised and locally presented programming.

"The internet and converging media are making the reach rule redundant. For example, commercial television networks are partners in two of the top three Australian news websites," committee chair Senator Doug Cameron said.

At a hearing in March, Channel Nine boss David Gyngell led the calls for the rule to be discarded, arguing its removal would actually improve the quality of regional TV news.

Removing the rule would pave the way for Nine to proceed with its mooted merger with Southern Cross Austereo, which also used the hearing to call for the rule to go.

In a bid to alleviate the fears of people like Senator Barnay Joyce, Mr Gyngell told the hearing Nine would commit to broadcasting 30-minutes locals news bulletins across 23 regional areas.

Regional TV station Prime also called for the rule to be scrapped.

But at the same hearing Channel 10, WIN and Seven West each warned the consequences for regional news would be dire.

Ten CEO Hamish McLennan said at the time there would be an "automatic reduction in diversity" if the rule did no exist.

"We think the implications for regional Australia are great and we shouldn't rush it through," Mr McLennan said.

"We are very, very concerned and I think we need to be clear that mergers are about taking costs out."

The broadcasting committee also supported giving the Australian Communications and Media Authority the power to require on-air reporting of corrections, clarifications and directions based on its findings.

ACMA demonstrated to the committee that there is a gap in the sanctions it can impose on broadcasters.

The committee did not support providing that a program supply agreement alone could indicate control of a broadcaster.

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