Government to balance ‘constrained fiscal circumstances’ with TV licence fees

Licence fees for broadcasters are being looked at in the context of the Federal budget, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield says. Photo: Jessica HromasCommunications Minister Mitch Fifield has stressed that the government is in “constrained fiscal circumstances”, further decreasing the likelihood of a large cut to television licence fees to 1 per cent of broadcasters’ revenue, from 4.5 per cent.
Nanjing Night Net

Senator Fifield would not comment on budget speculation. However, he conceded that TV and radio licence fees were antiquated.

“We’ve made clear that we would be examining the issue of licence fees in the context of the budget. We’ve undertaken to do that,” Senator Fifield said.

“I recognise that licence fees were conceived in the late 1950s, in a time when radio and TV were really the only electronic media options, and that there’s a great deal of competition now.”

The free-to-air television industry has been lobbying the government to abolish its $173 million a year licence fees, or at least cut them to 1 per cent of revenue so they are more closely aligned with international counterparts.

However, with the Turnbull government due to deliver its first budget in May before an election, budget repair might take priority over the wishes of the broadcast industry.

“We are in constrained fiscal circumstances,” Senator Fifield said. “I can’t give an indication of what will happen or comment on budget speculation.”

Sources said no final decision had been made and that the budget process could always be subject to last-minute changes.

Senator Fifield has said previously he had “a lot of sympathy” for the networks’ case for further cuts.

Credit Suisse analyst Fraser McLeish is predicting a more modest reduction in licence fees, where they could fall to 2.5 per cent over the next few years.

In 2013 the Gillard government slashed the fees from 9 per cent to 4.5 per cent of broadcasters’ revenue.

Television broadcasters are facing a tough advertising market, underlined on Tuesday when Nine Entertainment said its third-quarter TV revenue slumped 11 per cent from the year-earlier period.

Senator Fifield has proposed the removal of the reach rule, preventing networks from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the population, and the two-out-of-three rule, preventing media companies from owning a TV network, radio station and newspaper in the same market.

Asked whether the proposed changes to media ownership laws would be shelved until after an election, the timing of which remains up in the air, with a double dissolution still an option for the Turnbull government, Mr Fifield said he was working “one day at a time”.

“I don’t know when the election will be, so as both Minister for Communications and the manager of government business in the Senate in a legislative sense, I take things one day at a time and I’m still working to progress media reform through the Parliament.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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