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ACCC on media diversity « Previous | |Next »
August 16, 2006

Graeme Samuel, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, delivered the annual La Trobe University media studies lecture last Monday. It was entitled 'Australia’s changing communications and media landscape.' The context is the widespread concern that the Howard Government's proposed law changes will substantially worsen concentration of ownership in a heavily concentrated industry that is undergoing very rapid change.

PettyA1.jpg
Bruce Petty

What is the ACCC's perspective on this change? In his lecture Samuel argued that the media industries are changing, and the earlier focus on particular media, such as newspapers, television and radio, may no longer be as relevant as analysing who controls the "pipes". By "pipes" he means the way by which media material is distributed to people. The pipes have broadened substantially to include the internet, mobile phones and video games, as well as combinations of media forms.

Samuel states the new media realities clearly:

When we think of the media, we tend to think of it in very traditional forms---newspapers that we read in the morning over a cup of coffee, radio broadcasts that we listen to for talk back and coverage of the footy, and television that we watch for the evening news and our favourite soapies. We have generally considered these modes of delivery---newspapers, radio and TV---as distinctly separate and, consequently, defined them as different markets within the overall media sector. But those neat categories are starting to come under fire, principally from the internet but also from pay-TV and, more recently, other wireless media, most notably mobile phones. With the immense resources of the internet at their finger tips, consumers no longer have to rely on a limited number of information sources provided by the typical media gatekeepers such as newspapers or free-to-air television networks.

What is the significance of this shift? Consumers are starting to gain some choice control over how consuming media content; consumers are developing “user-generated content” for traditional media; formerly separate industries are converging; competition between media outlets that have traditionally been considered to occupy separate, complementary markets; audiences for traditional media platforms are declining; and increasing expenditure on internet advertising. We are in the first stages in a media revolution.

Samuel rightly says that the key regulatory issue is who controls the content delivered over the pipes:

...how people access the content they desire, and at what speed, will increasingly be determined by the control of the telecommunications networks--th e pipes --connecting homes and business. As the pipes are increasingly able to deliver a wide range of content to consumers, the question of who controls the content, especially premium content such as sports and new release movies, will become a key question in assessing competition...Given [the] cornucopia of possible networks, we can’t let ourselves become solely focussed on who controls the pipes, or indeed start picking likely winners between the different technologies...Rather, what may become more important is having content that people want to access; and having a variety of ways to deliver it to the customer across a communications network.

As traditional media boundaries blur, focus may shift from the way information is delivered to the actual products media companies offer.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:13 AM | | Comments (2)
Comments

Comments

The issue around media ownership changes is important.

However, the ACCC appears to have developed a complete misunderstanding of what the real issues entails, about preserving diversity of content. The ACCC appears to be too concerned with ownership restrictions, that by default increases the likelihood of increased barriers to entry - not decrease them.

Further, the ACCC in its most recent decisions are exlcuding the nation building elements of merger and acquisitions, such as the recent announcement on the merger/take owner of One Steel and Smorgon. A key element of the ACCC's decision was the importance it placed on imports!

WeekByWeek,

The ACCC's regulatory and anti-competitive concern was more with the content delivered over the pipes than with the pipes themselves.

Samuel expressed confidence that the ACCC's powers under the Trade Practices Act were sufficient to protect competition levels in the media industry.When asked at the La Trobe lecture how diversity would be protected in the media, Samuel replied that, primarily, this would not be the ACCC's responsibility but would fall to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.It is unclear how ACMA will protect media diversity.