“I’ve come to tell you that we’re going to take the AFL rights off you.
We’re all going to get together to take those rights. We don’t really
want to do it, but News are making us.”
That’s exactly how Australia’s media owners talk to each other in
private, as Seven Network owner Kerry Stokes confirmed in his Federal
Court witness statement yesterday.
It’s a language with a tone of decisive inevitability about it – “we’re
gunna” do this … “Dad told me to tell you” that … “It will happen.” Just as the New York mafia dons speak their own dialect of English, so do the Australian media dons.
It’s also a language that can sometimes get very nasty, with Kerry
Packer’s “I’m going to bury you” speech being the most feared and
venomous example of the genre.
I have been on the receiving end of it, both directly and indirectly.
In the early 1990s I was invited to meet a senior News Limited
executive in a hotel coffee shop, where I was told that his company was
very upset that my company planned to extend our Melbourne suburban
newspaper concept to Sydney. “If you just stay in Melbourne we’ll leave
you alone,” I was told, but if you launch in Sydney we’ll wipe you out
in both cities (which we did, and they didn’t).
That kind of behaviour – the kind so deftly described by Kerry Stokes
yesterday – is what the current federal government wants to reward by
abolishing the current cross-media rules that prevent media proprietors
owning more than one medium – TV, radio or newspaper – in a capital
city or regional market.
Under the Howard-Coonan plan to “reform” the Australian media, there
will be no restrictions on owning any form of media in a market, other
than ACCC regulation.
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The absolutely certain result of that “reform” will be fewer media
owners and more power in the hands of Australia’s two media families
who start discussions with words like “I’ve come to tell you that …”