Inquiry into new media reform laws open until early April

It is understood independent MP Rob Oakeshott wanted more time to consider the laws.
It is understood independent MP Rob Oakeshott wanted more time to consider the laws. Jerad Williams

A KEY plank of the Federal Government's media reforms affecting ownership in regional areas will not be passed this week, with a parliamentary inquiry into the new laws open for submission until early April.

The joint parliamentary inquiry into the six bills in the reform package will consider public submissions on effects of removing the 75% audience reach rule until April 5.

While the committee is led by Labor Senator Matt Thistlethwaite, it is understood both Coalition committee members and independent MP Rob Oakeshott wanted more time to consider the laws.

A statement said the committee was not in a position to provide an interim report in the short timeframe provided.

The statement also said the committee wanted to consider further implications of abandoning the 75% reach rule.

It comes after Communication Minister Senator Stephen Conroy abandoned his pledge last week that he would not negotiate on the reforms, despite waiting nearly a year to respond to a review and inquiry into Australia's media sector.

Senator Conroy said on Tuesday he was now willing to talk to independent MPs regarding the reforms, after a fierce backlash from media interests.

But after his demands and the growing public campaign, the tentative initial support for the reforms has eroded.

The Opposition has also ruled out supporting the bills, unless crucial changes are made before the bills are debated.

Ray Finkelstein QC, who led the independent inquiry more than a year ago, spoke to the parliamentary inquiry hearing into the reforms.

He said currently most people had very little recourse after being harassed by the media.

Mr Finkelstein said the bills being debated were not a threat to free speech and was only a minor imposition on media outlets, which would be forced to have processes for "remedial action" for complainants.

Academic Matthew Ricketson, who assisted Mr Finkelstein in the inquiry, said the voluntary regulation of the industry was more concerning than the current bills.

He said one new thing the government should have considered was creating incentives for new media start-ups, to combat the growing failings of most media today.

Topics:  federal government matt thistlethwaite media ownership rob oakeshott

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