Mention a fourth commercial TV network in this country and suddenly the dire predictions emerge in job lots.

There’ll be a plague of frogs and toads, the earth will stop still and
it will be the end of life on earth(or rather in front of an
Australian-owned TV) as we know it at Martin Place, Ultimo, Willoughby,
Docklands and Bellevue Hill, if, horror of horrors, a fourth commercial
network is given the green light.

It briefly flared as an issue before the election campaign with the
Labor Party and then Mark Carnegie, John Singleton’s offsider, floating
the idea.

The ALP went cold on the idea, probably after someone ‘explained’ the
facts to it and leader Mark Latham, and the proposal for a network
built on Australian content floated by Carnegie, sort of went nowhere.

Carnegie is no longer a proponent and seems more interested in sorting
out the problems at Macquarie Radio and Macquarie Media where there’s
something of a rebellion going on.

But that hasn’t stopped the Free to Air Networks, Nine, Ten and Seven
continuing to pushing the line of no, no, no to the idea, even though
its dead and very buried by Communications Minister Helen Coonan.

In fact, it’s rather funny how the free To air Networks went all
bolshie this week and demanded that they be treated in a special
fashion by the Federal Government when it comes to media policy.

Isn’t that already the case?

There’s no need for it and it smacks of hot air from the industry’s lobby group, the inaptly named Free TV Australia.

I know I hear you all say, so what’s new?

But this time around it’s especially egregious. Here for two stories
from this week, with divergent approaches to the same tale –
Free TV calls for fourth network ban
(The Oz) and Battlelines drawn on fourth TV licence (SMH).

They want of course the right to be able to lobby, cajole and ‘explain’
to Government and not a the Australian broadcasting Tribunal or any
other group divorced from Government and staffed by public servants
(not that the ABA has shown much in the way of teeth to the Free to air
mob lately).

But in terms of special interest pleading it’s pretty offensive. This
from a mob that allowed itself, or rather the leading member
deliberately allowed itself, to be out thought on the free to air TV
rights for next year’s Ashes tour of England.

This is what the Free TV Australia, said it wanted this week and reported in The Australian.

“Free TV also wants legislation changed to enshrine the status quo of
three commercial networks and two public broadcasters” (what about
Channel 31, the public access channel in some cities?)

Of all the grubby grabs for privilege, this would have to be a
contender, especially with the Federal Government looking to change the
law to take the power to issue new licences from the Australian
broadcasting Authority and give it to the Department of Communications.

Of course there’s an obverse side to this move, it would also give the
government the power to TAKE AWAY licences. But that’s a far-fetched
scenario.

Free to air wants an indefinite ban on a new licence for a fourth
commercial network, as it would, with its lions share of the $3.6
billion spent annually on free to air advertising and more than $700
million a year in earnings.

But a fourth network could break new ground by using the latest digital
technologies, with ground-breaking advertising transfer technology,
internet-based information flows, multi-platform broadcasting ( free to
air, multi-channel and streaming for the internet).

But if you read the Sydney Morning Herald story, it shows a more
realistic look at the chances of a fourth network. It’s not on because
industry participants have ruled it out after the federal election
result.

So all the huffing and puffing from Free TV Australia is just special interest hot air.

No free to air group wants to broadcast the Ashes tour games because
Foxtel will have the rights courtesy of Premier Media Group’s Fox
Sports arm. That’s half owned by PBL (Packer) and News (Murdoch).That’s
why Nine ran dead on the Free to Air rights for the tour last year. It
could have bid then, but didn’t.

So don’t expect anything from Nine, ACP or News Ltd.

The best thing the Federal Government could do, would be to designate
all Pay TV channel suppliers, like Fox Sports and Premier under the
relevant legislation as being part of the Pay TV industry. That would
prevent the Ashes situation occurring again.

Now there’s a move that could go into legislation, how about it Free TV Australia?

Peter Fray

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