If you can’t beat it, write about it. Or use your
clout to try to delay the inevitable – for as long as there are pliant pols
about.

“Old and
new media will converge and ownership will be further concentrated under
expected changes,” Tom Burton writes
in the Sydney Morning Herald today in a lengthy piece on the Government’s much
mooted new cross ownership laws. “The lesson
from media history is that attempts to call the death of any technology are
fraught with difficulty.”

One of the reasons for this is that those with a
vested interests in old technology dig in – and use their clout to hang on to
what they’ve got.

Mark Day was pretty honest – or pretty blatant – in
his comments on the changes in The Australian yesterday. The headline said
enough – “If reform is too hard, well, that’s fine for big players” – but the
detail was there, too:

I believe key
players in the media debate – heavyweights News Limited (publisher of The
Australian
) and James Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting Limited – have lost
enthusiasm for reform and would not be fussed in the least if the Prime
Minister decided the whole thing wasn’t worth the effort.

A year ago, at the start of the most recent round of reform efforts, Howard let
it be known he was not prepared to go to the barricades over the issue. Unless
the industry reached broad agreement about the nature of the reforms, he was
not willing to invest large lumps of political capital in a fight that could
create winners and losers, and bad blood, among media companies in return for
virtually no public reward…

The status quo,
which kept all players neatly in their boxes, would lock in the certainty of
future profits.

Even if News and PBL were to put it as bluntly as that to the PM, it is
unlikely he would call the whole thing off until the Coonan proposals go to
parliament. But if, or when, they meet the resistance expected from the
Nationals and their bush constituencies, it is entirely possible the whole
issue will be consigned to the too-hard basket – without complaint from the
big players.

Which makes The Australian‘s own editorial from
December 29 last year on Kerry Packer pretty funny if you go back and look at
it again:

Kerry Packer went out on top, perhaps
at the pinnacle of his power and wealth. And whatever the achievements of his
son James, we will not see the likes of Packer again, in the way he took a
large fortune and built it into an enormous one. Because while the world in
which Packer prospered is not gone, it is changing fast, and in ways that will
not suit all the assets in his empire. Technology is reshaping the way
information and entertainment are delivered. And it is increasingly hard for
governments to protect established providers from new competitors in the way
politicians of both political persuasions helped Packer over many years. The
idea that Australia’s choice of electronic media should be restricted according
to the interests of established providers is economically outrageous, and
technologically archaic now every Australian with a broadband connection is
able to access music, movies and information on-line from anywhere in the
world…

But while Packer
was an astute businessman who made a great deal of money by his ability to spot
trends and manage businesses, he was also an advocate of public sector
protection when it suited him… It was hardly surprising Packer was sympathetic
to the old industry economics of protectionism from imports.

But it seems the obsolescence of the business model Packer was devoted to is
imminent… It sometimes seemed as if
Packer thought that what was good for his Nine Network was good for Australia.
But the days when anybody would accept, let alone agree with, such a suggestion
are ending.

Impossible – unless they’re an anybody called Keith
Rupert Murdoch?

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW