How the 2017 media law reforms put alley cats in charge of Fairfax

By Elizabeth Harris

On 26 July, Fairfax and Nine announced an historic merger, which will alter the landscape of Australian media irrevocably. The $4 billion merger will see Nine shareholders owning 51.1 percent of the newly combined company, with Nine’s CEO and chairman remaining in charge.

The takeover (which is about as much of a ‘merger’ as was Nazi Germany’s absorption of Poland) has been met with grief from Fairfax readers and staff alike. Concerns have been floated as to whether Nine – whom Paul Keating said has ‘the ethics of an alley cat’ – will sign up to Fairfax’s charter of editorial independence. Fears of job losses have also arisen upon Fairfax chairman Nick Falloon’s mention of the ‘synergies’ that will be achieved in the newsrooms – check out his media release if you need some top-notch buzzwords for your clerkship applications. Discerning consumers of Fairfax media may also be worried that their weekly Leunig cartoons will be replaced by a Married at First Sight meme.

But what makes the merger such big news is the fact that less than a year ago, it would not have been possible. The takeover was facilitated by a major deregulation of Australian media laws spearheaded by the Turnbull government in 2017.

With the support in the Senate of the Nick Xenophon Team, the federal government was able to put the new rules into effect. The new suite of media regulations abolished two long-standing media control and ownership rules contained in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth).

John Fairfax, back in the day. State Library of New South Wales/Wikimedia Commons

The first of these was the ‘two out of three rule’, which limited companies to having an interest in only two out of the three regulated forms of media (television, radio and print) in the same market. The amending legislation made it possible for a company to have a foothold in each of the three outlets.

The second rule to be scrapped was the ’75 percent reach rule’. Under the rule, television licence holders could not reach more than 75 percent of the Australian population.

The 2017 amendments didn’t erase the media control rules wholesale: the ‘5/4 rule’ which requires a minimum of five independently controlled media voices in metro areas and four in regional areas was retained. As was the ‘one to a market’ rule which prevented any individual from having more than one television licence in a market.

Undoubtedly, reform to Australian media laws was necessary. The rise of online streaming and social media had rendered the 75 percent reach rule redundant. Reach has now become unbounded by the previous constraints of analogue technology. However, those rules limiting market dominance – namely the two out of three rule – existed to prevent the very situation we now see arising in the Nine/Fairfax merger.

Even prior to the changes to the Broadcasting Services Act, Australia suffered from some of the highest media ownership concentration rates in the world. In 2016, only five countries had one owner with more than 50 percent ownership of the daily newspaper market. Australia was one of these (with Newscorp owning 57.5 percent of the market). The other four countries were China, Egypt, Chile and New Zealand. Our sheep-loving neighbours aside, this isn’t great company so far as free, diverse media coverage is concerned. A 2016 report by IBISWorld similarly said of the television industry that ‘Australian media and broadcasting industries are highly concentrated in comparison with the rest of the world’. Cross-media mergers such as the Nine/Fairfax merger only serve to make such market diversity issues worse.

Of course, one of the most unfortunate aspects of the takeover is the failure of the board to seize the opportunity to call the new company ‘Fine’.  Such lack of creative thinking does not bode well for the companies being able to put into effect their hoped-for $50 million in annual savings. The tragedy that is the failure to make ‘Fine’ happen is second only to the loss of editorial independence and quality journalism that we are likely to see as a result not merely of this merger, but the federal government’s amendments to the laws which sought to prevent such dominance of news media. So, I guess it’s a good thing they didn’t change the company masthead, because the results of the merger aren’t likely to be Fine at all.

Government violating ‘fundamental human right to affordable housing’, says NUS

By Kevin Marco Tanaya

National Union of Students National Welfare Officer Jordon O’Reilly has slammed the lack of increase in Newstart allowance rates, calling it an example of the government’s ‘failure to provide everybody’s fundamental human right to affordable housing’.

While there is no official ‘cut’, O’Reilly said that the rate has been caught in a 24-year long freeze. The implication of this is that it has failed to keep up with inflation, and by extension, house prices. The Sydney Morning Herald also reports that the share of Newstart payments in the federal budget will decrease in real terms by 10.8 percent in 2018 before jumping up by 9.1 percent between 2018-2019 and 2021-2022.

Mi Goreng

Mi goreng or my education?

The effect on students is very real. O’Reilly reports that students living on Newstart payments in the major cities would only be able to reasonably afford a grand total of three of the 66,000 houses listed on the Australian rental market, citing The Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot. Youth homelessness is also on the rise: a 2017 survey done by the NUS in collaboration with Anglicare shows that 89 percent struggle to buy essential study items such as textbooks, with 55 percent frequently struggling. Even the progenitor of the work-for-the-dole program, former Prime Minister John Howard said that a conversation needs to happen on ending the freeze.

Queried on the NUS’s response, O’Reilly said that the NUS is campaigning for an $100 per week increase to the Newstart allowance. Working with the Australian Council for Social Services and Everybody’s Home Campaign, it has been lobbying Senators and Members of Parliament on the importance of raising the rate. On student contributions, O’Reilly said that students at the ANU could help with the campaign, which starts in earnest in the last week of July, by signing a petition here, or by ‘spreading the message’ by uploading a photo with the NUS Facebook banner, and using the hashtag #Raisetherate or #NUSWelfare. A video featuring student representatives across the country will also be promoted using social media, which ANU students can share upon its release.

Asked about the inevitable argument that ‘cuts’ to welfare are a ‘tough love’ measure used to encourage independence and self-sufficiency, O’Reilly was unequivocal in his response. He stated that it is a fallacy and no one, if given the choice, wants to survive off welfare payments. The people who rely on Newstart and Youth Allowance have little to no choice if they want a roof over their head and a slightly more nutritious meal than mi goreng.

O’Reilly further argues that if the government is serious in their goal of promoting student self-sufficiency, then it should not deprive funding from the university and higher education system, which actually helps student achieve self-sufficiency. At the very least, he says, it should help ease the financial worries of the students as they are trying to become self-sufficient.

 

 

Bikes, War Crimes, and The Hague

Peppercorn caught up with Tudor Filaret, who has been interning with the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals formerly known as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. That’s even more complicated than “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”. Find out about how to survive riding bikes in the Netherlands and an intensive overseas internship…

 

Can you take us through a day in your internship?

Depending on my workload that week, I would arrive before 9 am to attend to my emails and to plan my day. Day-to-day tasks included cite-checking motions for grammatical consistency and accuracy for source materials, analysing evidence relevant to the case, and drafting motions related to the admission of evidence.

During busy periods, my colleagues and I would work together intensely to finish urgent tasks. During quieter weeks, we would sometimes go out for lunch in nearby parks to soak in the sun. Regardless of how busy it was, the team always found time to help each other out and to share a laugh.

Tudor Filaret

Can you explain Stanišić & Simatović for those who aren’t familiar with the case?

During the war in the Former Yugoslavia, various paramilitary groups such as the “Red Berets” committed crimes against humanity throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia. Against the backdrop of an ethnic cleansing campaign perpetrated against non-Serbs, crimes committed included forced deportation, murders, and persecution.

I worked on Prosecutor v. Jovica Stanišić & Franko Simatović (MICT-15-96), which is a retrial. The indictment for this case alleges that Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović, two former high-ranking intelligence officers in Serbia, orchestrated the training and financing of infamous paramilitary groups including the Red Berets.

The indictment further alleges that Stanišić and Simatović directed these paramilitary groups to execute the brutal ethnic cleansing campaign throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. Through their responsibility in a joint criminal enterprise with other high-ranking members of the Serbian leadership, Stanišić and Simatović are being prosecuted for committing crimes against humanity.

 

What’s the most exciting thing you did during your internship?

Because of the significance of the work I felt excited being involved in all tasks. If I were to choose one standout experience it would be helping to proof witnesses and attending court. I was proud to see my work with a witness deployed in court during examination-in-chief by the prosecution attorneys. I was in awe when watching the most brilliant legal minds arguing about such a historically significant conflict.

 

What was the team like that you were working with?

I worked with eight other interns and eight attorneys. I had the opportunity to work with individuals from countries such as the USA, Canada, Germany, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Aruba, Italy and Zimbabwe. Everybody brought their cultural values to the workplace, which allowed all of us to learn from each other and to produce work that reflected our diverse perspectives.

I am proud to say that the people I have had the honor to meet and work with were very kind, driven and engaging. Within the intern pool, we were supportive of one another during our working hours, but also in our other personal pursuits such as planning travels or helping each other with our next professional engagements. The attorneys that I have worked with were very patient, open to communication, and were actively invested in our personal and professional development.

 

What’s one life lesson you learned from your time there?

Everybody is more resilient than they think they are. While I have had some frustrating moments, such as taking 30 minutes to locate salt at the supermarket, this frustration made me calmer in hindsight. Over time, everyday inconveniences seemed smaller. Being able to ‘zoom out’ ultimately gave me a calmer perspective on life.

 

What advice would you give to a student considering applying for a similar role?

If you are a law student who is in their first three years of university, I would highly recommend doing a law exchange overseas. I am confident that completing a law exchange at University College Dublin brought me over the line in the initial application stage for this internship, as I was able to show that I had previous experience in living overseas. My exchange also allowed me to complete subjects that I could not have done at the ANU, such as mooting and advocacy, and certain types of international law. I can also recommend the ANU-Alabama summer study program.

If the time has passed to complete a law exchange, I recommend doing Evidence or Law of Armed Conflict to help prepare your application for the UN-MICT. For the internship application, the UN-MICT asks you to submit a sample piece of academic work that is relevant to the work of the Tribunal. For my application, I submitted a research essay that I completed for Evidence, which addressed issues related to cross-examination on vulnerable witnesses.

 

How many times were you nearly killed on your bike?

I certainly had a few close calls during the first month of living in The Netherlands. I believe was a combination of me biking on the wrong side of the road and forgetting to use hand signals when turning.

 

Would you recommend this internship?

I would recommend this internship to anybody at the ANU in a heartbeat. Going to work every day was an absolute delight, and I found myself engaged in all tasks assigned to me. If this wasn’t enough, the working environment made each day enjoyable.

This internship has prepared me to work in an international environment and face challenges with greater self-certainty.

My final message to everybody is to go forth and apply for an internship at the UN-MICT. I promise you that you will not regret it.

 

So, how do I apply?

If you are thinking of applying, I would recommend speaking with your professors. As always, I would be more than happy for prospective applicants to get in contact with me at u5583341@anu.edu.au for tips about the process or living in the Netherlands. Click here to find out more.

 

Freaking Over Finals

Dear Aunt Pep,

The gloomy end of semester is on the horizon. Cram-studiers and HD-highway riders are all flooding the libraries. Note-writing, practice exams, last-ditch efforts for tute participation… What’s your advice for completing these final weeks of study?

Help!

Freaking-Over-Finals

Dear Freaking-Over-Finals,

Trust me, we’re all here right now, so you’re far from alone. Hancock is heaving and any-non-law-student who enters the lawbry bears the risk of 50 side-eyes faster than you can say ‘statutory interpretation’ when their true identity is divulged. But fear not! You’ve gotten through every single exam period until now and you will get through this one just the same. Aside from the holding-tight, white-knuckle instinct that has subsumed most of us by this point, merely trying to hold our breaths and survive until the end of semester, it’s time to get down to business—you still have time to get your shit together. First and foremost, I advocate finding out what you need to find out. There’s nothing worse than not knowing what you don’t know. After that, work with the time you have and space it all out (just kidding, you have exams on the 4th, 5th and 6th of June)! Most importantly, I recommend rewards—sure it’s vaguely humiliating and definitely Pavlovian but hey, there’s nothing that keeps you going that a solid positive morale. Time to stock up on some good quality chocolate.

Yours, stressed but not defeated,

Aunt Pep