http://www.afr.com/news/politics/former-news-boss-john-hartigan-blasts-tony-abbott-on-media- reform-failure-20150630-gi22zx Former News boss John Hartigan blasts Tony Abbott on media reform failure

Former News Ltd boss John Hartigan has accused a "bloody-minded" Tony Abbott of kowtowing to "media mates" and by dumping media law reform.

John Hartigan, Chairman , says: "This is the Prime Minster's bloody-minded captain's pick to look after a coupe of media mates." Louie Douvis

by Phillip Coorey

Former News Ltd boss John Hartigan has accused a "bloody-minded" Tony Abbott of kowtowing to "media mates" Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes by rolling Malcolm Turnbull's push to unwind rules which would have enabled other players, including regional networks, to survive. Mr Hartigan, now chairman of regional TV company Prime Media Group, has told Financial Review that starting next week, Prime, along with fellow regional broadcasters WIN Corporation and , will launch a television, radio and digital campaign to pressure Mr Abbott to rethink his opposition to unwinding the two- thirds ownership rule and the reach rule.


The campaign has the support of rural and regional Coalition MPs who are alarmed that the ongoing plight of regional broadcasters means more job losses and less local news content.

Last week, Coalition MPs held a crisis meeting in Parliament House with the chief executives of Prime and WIN.

"There wasn't a spare seat anywhere," said north Queensland MP Ewen Jones.

"There wasn't a regional MP who didn't have a representative in the room, from north Queensland to WA.

"The last thing I need in my electorate is people losing jobs."

Struggling regional commercial networks have been cutting costs by winding back news coverage and shedding jobs.

Mr Turnbull, the communications minister, felt that by abolishing increasingly obsolete laws restricting media ownership and the audience-reach rule that prevents , and the Ten Network from owning regional affiliates, it would create the potential for mergers and acquisitions to keep the broadcasters alive.

Mr Turnbull was rolled by Mr Abbott following heavy lobbying of the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers – predominantly by Mr Stokes, who owns Seven West Media, and his son Ryan. News would only accept change if anti-siphoning laws, which keep sport on free-to-air TV, were scrapped.

The government decision hurt the regional broadcasters, the and Fairfax Media, publisher of The Australian Financial Review, all of which are stymied by the current laws. "This is the Prime Minster's bloody-minded captain's pick to look after a couple of media mates," Mr Hartigan said.

"This is playing with people's lives."


Mr Hartigan said the campaign, first flagged by the Financial Review's Street Talk column on June 24, would contend that Mr Abbott's decision would create two classes of citizens – those in regional and rural and those in metropolitan Australia. "The regional community risks losing their voice unless the reforms of media is put back on the table," he said.

"The only way to secure our future and the future of regional news services is if we update media laws. "That will allow mergers and acquisitions that achieve economies of scale."

Mr Hartigan said there would be "further mass sackings".

"We're trying to keep jobs and we lost the argument because of the interests of two proprietors."

Regional broadcasters face increased competition from unregulated internet-based streaming services, have less ability to integrate advertising into programming, and face growing fees to their metro affiliates.


One industry source who declined to be named said Mr Stokes was happy to let his competitors wither on the vine while did not need the changes because it had already effectively circumvented the two-thirds ownership rule with 's acquisition of 15 per cent of Channel 10.

News owns 50 per cent of Foxtel and Lachlan Murdoch holds 7 per cent of Channel 10 already. Mr Murdoch also owns radio station Nova FM. This effectively gives News radio, TV and newspapers in the same market, as well as pay TV and online.

One source said News had demanded of Mr Turnbull that he scrap anti-siphoning rules that ensure key sporting events stay on free-to-air TV but Mr Turnbull told the company it would never pass the Senate.

The current arrangement with Foxtel buying into Channel 10 would allow Foxtel, Channel 10 and Channel Seven to stitch up sport broadcasting by offering a joint platform.

Mr Abbott has told colleagues he does not want the issue revisited but the internal push from his colleagues will intensify pressure to rethink his position.

It is understood Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has spoken to Mr Abbott about the issue.

During last week's party room meeting, when the issue was raised, Mr Turnbull pointed out that WIN had already closed bureaus in Mildura and Mackay and that there was a threat to its operation in Wide Bay, in the electorate of Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss.

Mr Truss expressed dismay, saying WIN could not do that and Mr Turnbull responded:

"As a matter of fact Warren, they can and they will."