Stokes takes aim at Google over tax

Billionaire Kerry Stokes says the government should review a regulatory environment in which the media group he controls, Seven West Media, competes against rivals such as Google that do not pay any tax here.

Billionaire Kerry Stokes says the government should review a regulatory environment in which the media group he controls, Seven West Media, competes against rivals such as Google that do not pay any tax here.

Mr Stokes told shareholders at Seven West's shareholder meeting in Sydney on Wednesday that it is unfair the group is one of the few media companies in Australia to pay tax, which totalled $100 million last year, as well as television broadcast licence fees, which do not apply to rivals like Google.

"I'm not being critical of Google, I think they are a fine company doing a good job, except I would like them to pay their fair share of tax, which should be greater than what we pay," Mr Stokes said. He called for a fresh look at the regulatory environment "to help create a level playing field".

Google's Australian arm paid just $781,471 in tax in 2011, despite an estimated $2 billion revenue from Australian ads.

After the meeting, Mr Stokes used the issue as part of a broader argument for reducing the $160 million annual licence fee the television networks pay for use of the broadcast spectrum. While a 50 per cent rebate on the licence fee was made permanent this year, the industry argues it is still at a disadvantage compared with online rivals.

On the broadcast front, Seven West indicated it expected to continue to defend record ad market share against its rivals.

Group chief executive Tim Worner broke ranks with the television industry's dour outlook and predicted a merrier Christmas for its market-leading television network.

Mr Worner said it was seeing a lift in advertising around some of Seven's major "tent-pole" programs in the new year and added, "we are hopeful we may see a stronger December". But he stopped short of predicting a full-blooded advertising turnaround for the sector.

He said demand for Seven's big programming franchises early next year were "a bit stronger than what we've seen at this stage of proceedings previously, but I am not seeing anything that would make us comfortable in departing from the guidance we provided at results, which was low single-digit growth."

He said the Seven network was on track to gain more than 40 per cent of television ad share again this financial year despite advertising remaining short across all its media businesses, which includes magazines and The West Australian newspaper.

Mr Stokes said the group was well positioned when an advertising turnaround eventuated after a couple of tough years for the media.

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