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Media reform: much ado about nothing « Previous | |Next »
March 15, 2006

So Senator Coonan has signalled the Howard Government willingness for media reform but not much commitment. The Senate can no longer be blamed this time around for the cautious reform-- all we have is a "discussion paper" after a decade of media reform talk.

PryorA 8.jpg Geoff Pryor represents the critical commentary, and for good reason. It is proposed that there will be:

a relaxation of the cross-media ownership laws and foreign ownership provisions; but there won't be any decisions or legislation whether to wind back the restrictions for at least another year, and the proposal possibly won't be put before Parliament until 2010.

limited concessions to Foxtel with respect to the current anti-siphoning provisions that restrict Foxtel from screening certain programs (mainly sport) unless they are available on free-to-air;

a pushing back of the transition from analog to digital--- to 2010 and 2012 with the removal of some content restrictions;

a continued moratorium on new free-to-air (FTA) TV networks;

limited digital services on other platforms (deregulation of broadband internet TV), but there will be regulated licences for innovative new internet TV and mobile TV offerings.

The upshot of this minimal reform?

It primarily protects the established players--the media tycoons, Rupert Murdoch and,James Packer. The lifting of cross-and foreign-ownership restrictions would allow Rupert Murdoch's News Limited to diversify into television; James Packer's Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd, would be able to buy newspaper assets; and foreign media giants, such as the US's Time Warner and Viacom, can buy Australian publishing companies such as Fairfax.

So the media industry is allowed to consolidate to enjoy greater market power and cost savings, while retaining its protection from new competitors. It's good news for the corporate media as they can continue to make money for shareholders by delivering consumers to advertisers. It means that the free-to-air networks will continue to resist delivering a new digital future and making Australia a dinosaur of the analog age.

The media takeovers to consolidate TV and radio will led to the speed up of the ongoing rationalisation of newsrooms and to the downsizing of journalists. So we have fewer journalists to produce more content for the internet and to pay TV that supposedly supplement free-to-air TV and radio. It's more of the same kind of media isn't it, apart from the red herring talk of adverts on ABC. There is very little here for consumers.

When is media policy going to start from the public interest and work back to an industry structure that serves that purpose?

So how are the existing monopolies in print media ownership in our capital cities going to be challenged? How will the lack of media diversity in SA, Queensland and WA be addressed and how will competition against the News Corp monopoly be encouraged in Adelaide or Brisbane? Is it the provision for a minimum number of commercial media groups will operate in a single market---four in regional markets and five in mainland state capitals. How does that stop the Howard Government preventing a foreign media company starting up a new Adelaide newspaper in competition with News's tabloid, The Advertiser?

Will the Nationals take a big stand on media reform to ensure media diversity, competition and localism for regional Australia? They have an opportunity given the effects fo these reforms will be a more concentrated and powerful media industry.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:54 AM | | Comments (4)


Um, this is a complete, craven short sighted surrender to the media proprietors in the existing system.

It is about easing them into the new diversified universe, even though we have the most profitable television channels in the world.

Anyone who thinks this is not a disaster should sit down with a pile of sick bags and watch the Fox news feeds on cable for an evening.

The libs ought to think that we do live in an oppositional political system. If the left collapses, the dialectic will move inside the liberal pary, and the proprietors will exert control on that level.

How did we get into that foreign war again?

I heard an international law expert from Shanghai University yesterday say that the Chinese government believes the Iraq war is the biggest foreign policy mistake the Americans have ever made. A comment brought to you by your government radio station.

This media 'reform' (otherwise known as 'deregulation' or 'market forces theory') is the direct result of large donations to the Coalitions from the media conglomerates and tycoons.

The answer to your question about the Nationals, Gary, is of course a resounding no. The Nationals don't have the guts, or the numbers, to do anything real for their constituents, especially in the Lower House.

I suspect that Coonan's initial proposal was much stronger in its reform impetus to overcome the way that incumbent TV broadcasters work to keep competitive technologies at bay, and it was more forward thinking about encouraging the development of digital media.

The reform package was watered down in the PM's office---he's the boss---with an eye to ensuring the Howard Government stays in power.

This media reform highlights the way that the Howard Government is not about competition at all--its all about protecting the big media players and keeping government control over the media industry instead of giving the governance to a strong regulator.There is a pressing need for an independent communications regulator to avoid the corruption involved in TV or mobile phone licences being granted by ministers.

It continues the tradition of the free-to-air networks being the beneficiaries of licence exclusivity for 50 years, and stiff regulatory constraints on competition from new media since 2001 when a moratorium on new licences, a strict anti-siphoning regime and a ban on multi-channelling came into force.

And this protection is going to continue until 2012---the analogue switch-off date. If the Government really wanted to ensure new ways of doing business, then surely it should be offering maximum flexibility in the way the established media players and others can use the newish medium of digital TV.


so when are the Nationals going to start doing a bit of product differentiation?

Isn't that what their constituents want? What issue will it be where they make their big stand to show that they have some ideas worth fighting for? Or will they be content to remain closet Liberals and slowly die out?

I hear Senator Fiona Nash this morning on Radio National. She was positioning the Nationals as the 'media reform watchdog'.The new media watchdog thought Coonan's paper was a reasonable draft!