“I think these measures will provide significant support and a key element of that is how quickly we can start to get the money where it’s needed,” Mr Fletcher said.
“It’s certainly our view that there is an immediate crisis with a sharp reduction in advertising revenue affecting regional media businesses … It is certainly my hope and expectation that there will be media businesses that are in a more sustainable position as a result of this package than was previously the case.”
Mr Fletcher has previously cooled talk of further relaxation of media ownership laws to allow regional mergers but would not be drawn on Wednesday on what the government was planning. He said companies were lobbying and the government was listening but no decisions had been made.
“They have pointed to the pressures on advertising revenues in the current circumstances as exacerbating the structural changes that they argue already existed,” he said.
The options paper on content quotas from the Australian Communications and Media Authority and Screen Australia laid out four possible directions, ranging from the status quo through to complete deregulation.
Mr Fletcher said the current imbalance between regulations for local and global companies was unsustainable and the options paper for “harmonised” obligations for broadcasters and streaming services would guide the government’s thinking.
“Do I think it’s likely the outcome of the harmonised process would be that every regulation that presently exists stays in place and gets added to the streaming services? I don’t think that’s a very likely outcome. But I don’t want to prejudge where we get to,” he said.
Nine Entertainment Co chief executive Hugh Marks and Seven West Media boss James Warburton welcomed the package but said urgent regulatory action was needed.
“We are not businesses that can hibernate during these events but our revenue is significantly impacted,” Mr Warburton said.
Mr Marks said the crisis highlighted the importance of addressing regulatory imbalances between media companies and technology giants Google and Facebook.
“The current COVID- 19 crisis only serves to further highlight the need for urgent long-term solutions to the regulatory imbalance between highly regulated domestic media players and unregulated international technology companies,” he said.
Prime Media Group said the package would make a meaningful difference but time would tell if it was enough.
“The minister has delivered something that has a firm basis in reality – something meaningful which reflects our sector’s separate and independent existence,” Prime chief executive Ian Audsley said.
Foxtel boss Patrick Delany, who last week was forced to stand down 140 staff and make 200 redundant, said the announcement was “extremely disappointing” with little attention given to subscription television.
We are not businesses that can hibernate during these events but our revenue is significantly impacted.
Seven West Media boss James Warburton
“Current regulation is effectively a discriminatory tax on Foxtel which impacts our ability to compete on a level playing field with free to air television,” Mr Delany said, also pointing to the threat from “aggressive international players”.
Australia’s radio sector also said the relief package was inadequate. Commercial Radio Australia chief executive Joan Warner, who represents the interests of Southern Cross Austereo, Nova Entertainment, Australian Radio Network and Nine Radio said the broadcasters had been “largely overlooked”.
Screen Producers Australia chief executive Matthew Deaner said the production sector had been amongst the hardest hit from COVID-19 and needed its own support package to “secure the future of the screen industry and harness its ability to gear up and return to making great local content as soon as possible”.
With Karl Quinn
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Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Zoe Samios is a media and telecommunications reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.