By Crikey reporter Lucy Morieson

Last night, the Australian Democrats met in Canberra with media industry insiders and other interested parties to discuss their plan of attack on the government’s proposed media reforms. Senator Andrew Murray, the party’s spokesperson on media reform, said the purpose of the round table was to act as a “consultative mechanism” to inform party policy.

In short, the plan was to create a forum for open discussion where the Democrats could formulate an informed reaction to the Howard Government’s latest proposals for media reform. Murray says the Democrats were “motivated by the consciousness that the Australian media are either behaving like company men and women, or as employees of big business – and are extremely wary of expressing their opinion.”

It’s this sort of situation that stifles any real debate – because “it’s their job to inform the Australian people,” says Murray. “So it’s difficult to receive good, open and frank advice.”

Because of the nature of the meeting, details aren’t being released, so we don’t know who attended, or what was discussed. Murray could tell us, however, that the discussion covered all the issues of “competition, regulation, bias, diversity and technical issues.”

The problem with the government policy, says Murray, is that while in theory it appears to increase competition, in practice it would lead to “increased concentration and a diminishment of voices in the media.” Which is unsurprising, says Murray, for a party that’s continued to legislate in support of the concentration of business power during their time in government.

But “the government lines are not drawn on this,” says Murray. It’s an issue that “effects the political class in a real way” – and every MP and Senator is sure to have a view.

Peter Fray

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