Joint Select Committee on Broadcasting Legislation - 18/03/2013 - Further reform of Australia's broadcasting legislation
AUDSLEY, Mr Ian, Chief Executive Officer, Prime Media Group Ltd
McDONALD, Ms Emma, General Counsel and Company Secretary, Prime Media Group Ltd
Senator LUDLAM: We heard from WIN before you when they gave evidence and now we have heard from you that you take your local news and current affairs production so seriously that you produce it way over the odds and way over the regulated minimum. But we did hear that WIN put a contrary position to yours. They are worried that lifting the reach rule makes them a takeover target and their new parent company may not have that commitment to local news. Can you see why we are in the position that we are in? Our job is to protect the public interest, not a particular commercial interest. We have already heard from one network. I do not know whether we have taken evidence from Southern Cross this morning. I think people have already indicated that they are much closer to the statutory minimum. They are actually reading news out of a city 1,000 kilometres from some of their licence areas. Can you see why there are concerns that, while it may suit your interests to not end up quarantined in that box or however you put it before, there does appear to be the very real possibility that, if there is consolidation and takeovers, others may not have the same view as you? You have these high-cost bureaus. If you are looking to cut costs, would they not be the first people you would be looking at?
Mr Audsley : I can answer that in two ways. The first way, which was my earlier response, is that the networks that currently own regional broadcasting operations have not reduced their commitment to local news operations in the entire time that they have owned those regional broadcasters.
Senator LUDLAM: But aren't you folk under degrees of commercial pressure now that you were not before? Is that not in fact the argument that you are putting to us-to not keep this artificial cap over your head?
Mr Audsley : Correct, but we are not of a mindset of reducing news services because-
Senator LUDLAM: No, you are not. But what if you are taken over by some company operated out of Dubai that has absolutely no commitment to local news?
Mr Audsley : That is a hypothetical.
Senator LUDLAM: It is the kind of hypothetical we have to contemplate here.
Mr Audsley : I cannot speak for a potential acquirer.
Senator LUDLAM: A potential acquisition of your business?
Mr Audsley : Correct.
Senator LUDLAM: But lifting the rule means that we have to contemplate precisely those sorts of outcomes.
Mr Audsley : Then it is a matter of applying whatever restrictions you need to the acquisition process, I would have thought.
Senator LUDLAM: That is why we are here. Are you a member of Free TV?
Mr Audsley : Absolutely.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you just outline for us your understanding of the agreement reached with the government last year by Free TV in which the reach rule was discussed, among other matters?
Mr Audsley : I think it is fair for me to say this: I was not involved in every meeting around that. We are members of Free TV. We are conscious that Free TV members were in agreement on the removal of the 75 per cent reach rule. Prime has supported the removal of the 75 per cent reach rule last year, this year, last month, last week and this week. We have maintained our position. We are honest brokers and we have not changed our view.
Senator LUDLAM: Nobody is suggesting-
CHAIR: I will stop you there, Senator Ludlam, I am sorry. We are running out of time. You can put the rest on notice.