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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

"media reform" « Previous | |Next »
September 14, 2006

The Howard Government is introducing legislation, made up of four separate bills covering extra powers for the media regulator, digital switchover and changes to ownership rules, today. The bill will be referred to a Senate committee, which has been asked to report back by October 5. Legislation covering the digital licences will be introduced next month. My guess is that the dissident National Party senators will hold out for a while on a few issues and there will be some modification, but essentially the legislation is likely to pass.

As John Durie in the Australian Financial Review points out the key to media reform in Australia is still the protection afforded to the free-to-air television industry that is not known for its innnovation or diversity. It was only a little while ago that free-to-air was barred from investing in the new spectrum for in-home digital TV services (Channel A) and the spectrum for use in mobile phones (Channel B). But there has been a backflip by Communications Minister Helen Coonan. As of yesterday the heavily protected free-to-air television industry is barred from the former spectrum but not the latter, and it is the latter where the money is to be made, as they can provide up to 30 channels for mobile TV and other devices.


The upshot of Coonan's media reform? Increased media concentration and a greater lack of diversity.

Those disadvantaged by the increased protection for free-to-air television industry are News Ltd and Fairfax---the print industry. And consumers. However, it is unclear what kind of services and content innovation News Ltd and Fairfax would bring to the table. Fairfax has pulled out of bidding in the auction for the mobile TV licence.That leaves News, Foxtel, Telstra, Seven, Macquarie Bank and PBL as likely bidders. Where does Fairfax move to now? It looks increasingly like being boxed in a corner. Murdoch has the option of TV takeover (so we have Fox Television) and News Ltd could end up being the most powerful single entity in the Australian market.

In an interview on Lateline Paul Keating, the former ALP Prime Minister, addressed his concerns from the consumers perspective. He said that it worried him:

...about the quality of our plurality, our democracy, the diversity of views. I mean, is there any case, any case, for any one of the free-to-air stations, Seven, Nine or Ten, owning say, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age? If you're a policy maker, is there any case? You see the National Party talking about protecting communities, giving them some diversity in provincial centres. I'm very sympathetic to that view because you get the local free-to-air station in some country centre owning the local newspaper and that's pretty much it for the diversity of opinion coming your way....Now, if that station owns the newspapers or is allowed to own the newspapers, then that diversity is curtailed. Now, the National Party senators, not unreasonably in my opinion, are saying "this is not very good."

He then adds:
But I think they should extend the argument - it's not very good for us in the cities either. I mean, why should we, if you live if a provincial part of Australia and you want diversity, the Government's so-called five voices - I mean if you take Sydney. I mean if you take 2CH, dear old 2CH, you wouldn't call her much of a voice, would you? But she's one of the five, for instance. I mean, you know, I think there should be some consistency on the part of members and senators in treating the capital cities the same as the provincial cities. That is, we are all entitled to diversity.

He then asks:
how would it be living in Sydney, say, if the PBL squad at Channel Nine, Eddie and the boys, also controlled the Sydney Morning Herald and then down in Melbourne, the Nine Network had The Age? Or, alternatively, the Fairfax company owned Channel Seven? That is HSV7 in Melbourne, ATN7 in Sydney - would this be good for us? How could this be good for us?

Good questions. And surrpise suprise. The Nationals are listening to Keating--the old enemy.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:20 PM | | Comments (0)