The Australian led its front page this morning with this story by Steve Lewis “Howard reins in media reforms”:

The Howard Government will abandon plans to radically reform
Australia’s media landscape, instead restricting changes to cross-media
and foreign ownership laws.

In
a setback to the reformist aspirations of Communications Minister Helen
Coonan, the Government will dump her big-ticket reform proposal in
favour of a narrower set of changes.

Plans to allow free-to-air television stations to offer multiple
channels – and the take-up of information services, known as
datacasting – have been shelved.

The Government has also abandoned plans for a fourth commercial
television licence, and delayed the phasing out of analogue television
because of the slow up-take of more expensive digital services.

What does it mean? Simply that the Government has abandoned plans to free up the media industry in any
way, and instead will follow their instructions from the Packer and
Murdoch families which are designed to ensure those two dynasties
continue to direct the traffic (and the government policy) in the media
industry.

As Lewis (a Murdoch employee, but apparently not a subservient one)
writes, Coonan’s original plans “were designed to prevent a diminution
of media voices in Australia.” But, says Lewis, the Prime Minister “has
indicated he does not want to get bogged down on the issue and
well-placed sources last night confirmed that he was also not
interested in pursuing the broader agenda first begun under a previous
minister, Richard Alston. “

Why? Because of “concerns raised by media executives, including News
Limited executive chairman John Hartigan, that proposed reforms would
benefit existing television stations at the expense of pay-TV.”

The result is a government charged with protecting the public interest
following the detailed instructions of the two wealthiest and most
powerful families in Australia to make sure they get wealthier and more
powerful.

This simplification of the media laws mean the Packers will most likely
add either a radio network or Fairfax to their existing kitty (Nine
network, an interest in Foxtel and the ACP magazine stable), and the
Murdochs will probably add the Ten Network to their kitty (Australia’s
biggest newspaper group and interest in Foxtel).

Fewer owners, more concentration, more profits and power for the
Packers and Murdochs … just another cosy Australian media deal,
really.

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Peter Fray
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