The ABC’s biggest names would have their salaries made public, and the words ‘fair’ and ‘balanced’ would be inserted into its legislation under a media reform deal being seen as an attack on the broadcaster.
In a deal between the Turnbull government and One Nation, the government will introduce a range of “transparency measures” to win One Nation’s four Senate votes, a move the opposition described as a “direct assault on the independence of our public broadcasters”.
Under the new laws, the ABC and SBS would have to reveal the salaries of those who earn more than $200,000.
The ABC currently reveals how many highly-paid staff members it employs within salary brackets, but claims revealing the exact salaries of on-air talent would harm its ability to compete with commercial stations.
The government also agreed to insert the words ‘fair’ and ‘balanced’ into the ABC Act, which already requires the network to be “accurate and impartial” under the “recognised standards of objective journalism”.
The new laws would likely cover high-profile presenters such as Q&A host Tony Jones, 7:30‘s Leigh Sales and Insiders‘ Barrie Cassidy.
Leaked ABC documents from 2013 showed Jones was paid $355,789 a year, while Sales earned $280,400.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield described the legislation as a “comprehensive and holistic package of reforms” that would free media companies from “outdated laws and regulations”.
If passed, the bill will peel back the nation’s cross-media ownership laws, including the so-called ‘two-out-of-three’ rule which prohibits a company from owning a TV station, newspaper and radio station in the same license area.
The “reach rule”, which stops one TV station from reaching 75 per cent of the population, would also be scrapped.
Labor was quick to slam the deal, which the opposition’s communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland labelled a “direct assault on the independence of our public broadcasters”.
“This is a government in chaos that is hell-bent on destroying media diversity in Australia, already one of the most concentrated media markets in the world,” Ms Rowland said.
“Not only will the repeal of the two-out-of-three cross-media ownership rule hand unprecedented concentration of media power to the hands of a privileged few commercial operators, this attack on the ABC in particular will diminish the independence of our national broadcaster.”
The bill – which also includes extra money for community radio and measures to increase the ABC’s focus on regional Australia – still requires the support of either the Nick Xenophon Team or the Greens to pass the Senate.
News of the deal came towards the end of a bruising day in Federal Parliament after the government became embroiled in a trans-Tasman diplomatic stoush over the Barnaby Joyce affair.
The government accused Labor and its NZ sister party of a “conspiracy” to undermine Australian sovereignty, while Foreign Minister Julie Bishop suggested she would now find it hard to “build trust” with a NZ Labour government.
The comments infuriated NZ Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, who called in Australia’s High Commissioner to express her disappointment at the “false claims”.