Interview with Kieran Gilbert on Afternoon Agenda

Kieran Gilbert: Let's turn our attention now to the media landscape in this country. Head of the Senate Communications Committee for the Liberals, Senator Andrew Bragg joins me. We've just seen this media diversity report. It's just dropped. Senator Hanson-Young is holding a news conference, we'll have some of that for our viewers in a moment. But first up, Senator Bragg, the finding that there be a judicial inquiry with Royal Commission powers, what do you make of that? What's your reaction? It seems quite a strong response to their concerns.

Senator Bragg: I just think that it's insane. The whole idea that you would have a Royal Commission into the private media in Australia where there's no case for doing so I think is just Argentinian style policy. This is coming from the same people who wouldn't have an inquiry into the ABC's complaints handling function, which is a public broadcaster. So there's no case for a structural review like a Royal Commission that I can see in the 300 page report.

Kieran Gilbert: Well, let's go through some of the key points in the report and your response. Number one, media diversity. You point to the comment by Rod Sims, the competition watchdog, who says that there is more media diversity now than ever before.

Senator Bragg: There's never been more media diversity. People can access a range of titles and publications on a range of devices. I mean, there is so much media diversity because of the big tech disruption. So there is no issue with a lack of opinion or lack of news or lack of coverage in this country.

Kieran Gilbert: Is this about one company, this whole thing?

Senator Bragg: I just think it's a stunt. It's a stunt that is looking in the rear view mirror where we need to be focused on the real policy issues, which is that big tech has too much power. Now the government has made some good steps here. There's more we're going to do. But looking at newspapers is really looking at the rear view mirror.

Kieran Gilbert: I want to ask you about the big tech question in a moment. They're saying this about the media landscape, not the public broadcasters. This is commercial broadcasters and newspapers. Do you see this as targeting one specific company?

Senator Bragg: This is a stunt designed to target, I'd say, private media, but with a particular focus on News Corp. And that is exactly what Mr Rudd wanted because he's got some bizarre and frankly, quite odd views about this. This is from a company which, from memory, supported his election as Prime Minister. It's a personal obsession of Mr Rudd's. It shouldn't be indulged by the Parliament. The inquiry's findings and evidence base is weak and threadbare. This report will go nowhere. And so I thought it was important to prepare a dissenting report which sets out how wrong this approach is.

Kieran Gilbert: And already traditional media has thousands of pages of regulation that it has to deal with. Big tech does not have the same. Is this committee missing the fundamental point?

Senator Bragg: It's missing the point. It's looking at the 1950s style media. In 2021, the media landscape has been disrupted. Newsrooms are different. People can go on to Reddit or Twitter or Facebook. You can get The Economist or New York Times. There is The Guardian, the ABC. There's free and paid content. There is so much diversity here. I mean, there's more media diversity in Australia than you can poke a stick at. So there is no public policy issue here to solve. It's a waste of the Senate's time. And I regret that this waste of taxpayer funds has occurred when we should be focused on the role of big tech in our community and our economy.

Kieran Gilbert: Should they be treated as publishers? That's the fundamental question.

Senator Bragg: Well they are publishers. And the government has made some important steps here. The media bargaining code, the E-safety Commissioner, the PM has announced more changes in this area, and the trend in the big tech space will only be to see more and more regulation. I mean, we're not going to regulate newspapers and traditional media. We're going to be regulating big tech.

Kieran Gilbert: So when you look at the Greens' reaction here, you describe it as hypocrisy. Why?

Senator Bragg: Well, the Greens defeated an inquiry into the complaints handling function of a public broadcaster. They want to have an inquiry, a Royal Commission, into the private media. It's just insane.

Kieran Gilbert: So no Senate inquiry into the complaints function of the national broadcaster...

Senator Bragg: Funded by taxpayers

Kieran Gilbert: But they're both barrels when it comes to News Corp?

Senator Bragg: Yeah. So this is just a political indulgence. It's designed for their social media accounts. It shows that they are protesters, not governors. And so this report will go nowhere. All it's done is waste taxpayers funds, and it's indulged Mr Rudd's fantasies.

Kieran Gilbert: Well, you wrote again in this response that I've had a look at here, that the shame here is that those who had fundamental or serious concerns were swamped by activists or protestors.

Senator Bragg: Yeah and look, there are people that have issues with the private media and they should be treated seriously. And the Press Council should be strengthened in terms of newspapers. But that's a matter for the newspaper industry. If people have issues with broader media outlets, then I think media outlets should consider having an ombudsman. I think the ABC should have an ombudsman. The SBS has an ombudsman and it works pretty well. So I'm not dismissing the genuine concerns the public has about media organisations, but that is a matter for those organisations to fix.

Kieran Gilbert: But you were saying that the likes of Get Up! and so on derailed some of those more serious concerns.

Senator Bragg: Well, there were petitions run by Get Up! and by Mr Rudd to send informed submissions to try and swamp the inquiry. But most of these were two or three sentence submissions, which had no real analysis. It was just opinion, not fact.

Kieran Gilbert: Just finally to finish where we began on that notion of a judicial inquiry with Royal Commission powers into the Fourth Estate. Do you see it as a fundamental attack on a democratic institution essentially?

Senator Bragg: It's very important that the Government of Australia keeps out of the day to day regulation of the press. I mean, especially when all the facts and stats show that the press is diverse. And so there being no case for any intervention, there's no need to do anything.


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