Griffith mayor John Dal Broi cautious about changes to media rules in federal budget

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A media shakeup contained in the federal budget could be a double-edged sword for some Riverina communities, with fears it could lead to a single voice in the bush.

Last week Communications Minister Mitch Fifield announced drastic multi-million dollar cuts to spectrum fees, aimed at giving TV networks a level playing field with streaming services, as well as scrapping rules that kept one company from dominating news.

But while those changes could help cities like Griffith get better TV coverage, mayor John Dal Broi was worried a single company could come in and buy out their competitors.

“We certainly need more news but we don’t want it controlled by one entity,” Cr Dal Broi said.

“We realise that being in a rural area it’s more expensive to provide news services but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have it at all.

“If there’s a saving to the TV networks then there would be a strong expectation from centres such as ourselves to get better coverage right across the spectrum.”

Travis Holland

Travis Holland

Charles Sturt University media lecturer Travis Holland said media companies had been advocating for the changes in the face of increased competition from Netflix and Stan – streaming TV services that don’t pay broadcast fees.

“With the rule changes, there’s an argument that the internet has superseded any lines between networks and media and they now compete on all fronts,” Mr Holland said.

“We can now get our news from anywhere, you don’t need the local provider when you can go straight to CNN or Fox.

“People are using wider media sources, but often they get it through a single channel like Facebook, which is effectively filtering what people do and don’t see.”

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg published a mammoth manifesto on the social media site in February, acknowledging it had become a media outlet.

“The two most discussed concerns this past year were about diversity of viewpoints we see (filter bubbles) and accuracy of information (fake news),” Mr Zuckerberg wrote.

“I worry about these and we have studied them extensively, but I also worry there are even more powerful effects we must mitigate around sensationalism and polarisation leading to a loss of common understanding.

“Our goal must be to help people see a more complete picture, not just alternate perspectives.”

Australia’s free-to-air broadcasters enthusiastically welcomed the changes, which Nine chief Hugh Marks said would enable the industry to compete with global players in a rapidly changing market.

Seven chief executive Tim Worner singled out the licence fee cut as the most important part of the package.

“In particular, we welcome the government’s move to reduce television licence fees, which have been the single biggest regulatory impediment facing this industry for some time,” he said.

“Removing these outdated fees will allow us to invest in more and better local content and to transform our businesses for the future and we thank the Turnbull government for taking this initiative.”

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