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Coonan on media reform « Previous | |Next »
October 5, 2006

I see that The Nationals are likely to succeed with their amendments to media reform in regional Australia. They will endorse a ban on mergers that give one company control of all three forms of traditional media--print, radio and TV. The Liberal Senators on the Senate review Committee have accepted the merit of a "two out of three' rule and it is expected that Senator Helen Coonan, the Communications Minister, will agree to the proposal. That addresses issue of the the power of media owners to influence the public debate and puts some constraints on the increase concentration of media ownership that will happen once the legislation has passed.

Coonan understands the challenges faced by the old media , the limits to the diversity of ownership on old platforms, needing to adapt to the new and the current media rules being designed for another era. In a speech to the Millennium Forum she quickly outlines how the media landscape has changed so much to justify the need to change the current media settings. It all sounds quite promising doesn't it. So why such limited media reform?

She says:

You only have to look at recent announcements such as those made by Google to see the looming challenges for the media industry. Google Video Australia will draw content from its global video service but it will also distribute short and long-form media from local providers such as the ABC, Network 10 and Fairfax Digital. Google has also formed partnerships with the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, Film Australia and Sony BMG. This is the way of the future - where the focus is on finding new distribution channels for content and harnessing the distribution power of mediums such as the Internet...Innovations such as YouTube are just one of many reasons why technology and time are making a nonsense of the current media rules.

She acknowledges blogs as a source of diversity and says that whilst they are a fringe element lacking the credibility of traditional news outlets, they are a powerful medium as their illegitimacy is their strength.

The key issues still remains though. Despite the growth of new media technology, despite blogs, despite mobile phones, despite YouTube, the power to influence the Australian political agenda still sits where it always has: in the laps of a tiny handful of media owners. The economics of the media are under stress as the spread of the internet and digital technologies means the media industry is undergoing changes to its business model.The media corporations will need to find ways of continuing to earn advertising revenue as the business model newspapers have relied on for more than 150 years diminishes.

Connan then says what she is trying to do with media reform:

I want my legacy to be the new services that emerge for Australian consumers – whether it is new digital channels, digital multi-channels or mobile TV. I want to transition the media industry in Australia from the old industry settings to the new digital world by achieving digital switchover expeditiously and then getting out of the way as new and innovative services reshape the media landscape....the [current media] package as a whole is the most balanced, considered, strategic and sensible way to achieve reform.It is a transitional strategy. It is designed to avoid the wholesale destruction of the current industry and provide an achievable plan to transition Australia to digital switchover.

Hang a mo. Aren't there lots of restrictions on the transition to a digital world; restrictions that protect the old media from competition? Is that what 'wholesale destruction 'refers to? Isn't 'wholesale destruction' a furphy? What we have is the slow decline of free-to air-television rather than their wholesale destruction. Or a code word for the protection of the old media companies.

Coonan talks in terms of 'new services that will emerge for Australian consumers.' What new services?All that is being offered is limited in- the-home datacasting and mobile television, which, more than likely, will be in the hands all into the hands of the existing free to air television providers. 'Diversity' doesn't have much content. It means protection of existing media companies. Coonan has been captured. She speaks on behalf of the established media companies.

A major concern with the proposed media reforms remains. It is the over centralisation of the media market and the lack of capacity of the ACCC to have effective oversight of media mergers and their effect on the democratic process of our nation. It is double speak to say that increasing concentration of ownership (reducing by more than half the number of media groups in a major city) can be considered a contribution to increased media diversity.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:10 AM | | Comments (0)