The Coalition government has finally gained the support it needs in the Senate to end longstanding controls on media ownership.
After prolonged negotiations, the Nick Xenophon Team agreed to support the government’s reform package this week, in return for concessions designed to strengthen media diversity, including a new $60m fund for Australian independent publishers.
The innovation fund, to be administered by the communications regulator, will allow Fairfax Media and News Corp subsidies to employ cadet journalists.
Key to the fund will be a grants program offering $16.7 million worth of grants a year over three years, available from mid-2018 and totalling $50 million.
The grants, to assist smaller publishers and foster diversity, will be available to media organisations with turnover greater than $300,000 a year but less than $30m a year.
Grants are only available to companies incorporated under Australian law and managed in Australia.
Eligible small publishers will be able to apply for grants to enhance ‘civic journalism’ that has the primary purpose of “investigating and explaining public policy and issues of public interest with the aim of engaging citizens in public debate and informing democratic debate”.
While the grants will enable media businesses to apply to purchase equipment and develop new digital products, and enhance training, the funding cannot be used for salaries.
Meanwhile the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is to conduct an inquiry into Google, Facebook and other internet giants, who Senator Xenophon says is “hoovering up” billions of dollars in advertising revenue that traditionally went to Australian media organisations.
Central to the government’s media reform package is the scrapping of the ‘2-out-of-3 rule’, which means media heavyweights will be able to own television, newspapers and radio stations in the same market.