Julianne Schultz, editor, Griffith Review:

We are about to go back to the 1960s just
as the rest of the world is leaping into a new century of media
diversity and
choice. Removing cross-media laws is an answer to yesterday’s question.
Today we need a light touch regulatory regime that will facilitate
innovation and
diversity: remove foreign ownership rules, keep cross-media limits,
remove
restrictions on digital broadcasting, license a fourth digital network,
continue to permit TV over broadband, reduce the anti-siphoning list to
events
that are actually broadcast, and provide support for Australian
content.

There is no public policy rationale to
abolish the cross-media ownership laws – there is no market failure. These laws
have led to a significant diversification of media ownership over the past 15
years. The industry may not be as profitable as it once was when the same
companies owned almost all the television and radio stations, newspapers and
magazines companies, but it is not collapsing.

Technology could transform media in the
next decade. Removing the cross-media
ownership laws will mean that the same old companies will be the winners. They
will get bigger and use their scale to prevent newcomers from getting a
foothold, stalling innovation and limiting choice.

There is nothing to stop major media
companies from moving online with text, sounds or images. The neatest way of forcing diversity, and a
method within reach of government, is to license a fourth commercial network.
This could open the airwaves, trigger innovation and choice. Closing this
option is absurd. Saying no to a new
digital network at the same time as removing the cross-media ownership laws is much
worse.

It would be a case of short term pain for
long term gain, a gift to the nation.

For the last six years, the networks have
been trying to slow down digital television.
They have succeeded. Analogue television was meant to be turned off by 2008
– now the minister says 2012. Maybe…
The restrictions passed in 2000 have stalled the uptake – just as the networks
knew it would, and now they are poised to do it again until they can cut a deal
over pay television.

Meanwhile on January 1, 2007, rules restricting multi channelling, datacasting and a new
television network will lapse. Legislation
will need to be passed to stop a fourth commercial television license becoming
available then. It won’t be sufficient to do nothing; the government will
actually have to decide to stop the technological transformation of the media
and its diversification and send us back to the 60s.

To read Schultz’s recent speech on the issue, click here.

Peter Fray

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