Here’s a prediction: the angry National
Party senators will block Helen Coonan’s new media ownership laws in an
early reprisal move following the defection of Julian McGauran to the
Liberal Party.

The Nats were always considered vulnerable on
media ownership reforms because mega-mergers will inevitably lead to
reduced services in RARA areas, something Southern Cross Broadcasting
demonstrated in 2001 when it closed its news services in Cairns,
Canberra, Townsville, Darwin and Alice Springs after a series of
takeovers.

The big five media companies are salivating at the
prospect of the first major mergers in almost 20 years, but the Howard
cabinet would be advised to offer up a minimalist model in a couple of
weeks, in light of the new tension in the coalition.

Media
policy really has been a joke over the last ten years. Channel Ten’s
blatant breach of foreign-ownership restrictions, the cow-towing to
Rupert Murdoch after his departure to the US, the datacasting debacles,
stacking the ABC board and appointing Jonathan Shier, the sweetheart
deals for the Packer family and the fact that Alan Jones remained on
the air after the cash for comment inquiry make for a catalogue of
compromises and failures.

Similarly, doddering David Flint was
finally forced out of the ABA way back in June 2004 and it took the
Cabinet 19 months to come up with Chris Chapman as the new head of the
expanded regulator ACMA.

Chapman is a straight shooter who knows
how to deal with government after the Dalrymple Bay bottle necks last
year. All those attacks on Peter Beattie led by Peter Costello over the
bottleknocks helped Chapman’s then employer, Prime Infrastructure,
extract bigger price rises out of the Queensland regulator.

It would be interesting to know what sort of contact there was between Chapman and Costello’s office during this period.

Chapman’s
only overt conservative association was being a judge’s associate to
Sir Garfield Barwick from 1978-80. However, he would have worked with
the PM’s brother Stan when he was in the Sydney office of Mallesons in
the early 1980s.

That said, I’ve had a couple of brief dealings
with him over the years and he seems to be both competent and a
straight shooter, something you could not say about the PM’s great
mate, David Flint.

Let’s hope Chapman’s appointment ends up being a rare sensible move by
a government that has mishandled media policy from start to finish.
What odds Coonan will overplay her hand and end up getting rolled in
the Senate, yet again, just as Richard Alston did during the last
attempt four years ago.