Despite what some critics regard as the light-weight generalisations in
yesterday’s Helen Coonan “discussion paper” on media laws in Australia,
there were some substantial reactions on the stock market, such as
Southern Cross Broadcasting leaping 6.5% to $12.25 and Network Ten gaining 2.8%.

And given all the debate about Telstra and continuous disclosure of
late, surely the Government would have learnt the lesson about the way
to release market sensitive information. Yesterday was a shambles because, according to the Minister’s website, the discussion paper was published at 12.53pm yet Coonan’s speech, which put
some flesh on the bones, was online from 9.03am.

Surely the market sensitivity of the announcement should have lent
itself to a lock-up with detailed briefings for analysts, media
executives and journalists that expired after the market closed at 4pm.
We could have then had all the analysis and commentary digested in time
for this morning’s market opening when the pronounced share price moves
would have unfolded.

Why do state and federal governments continue to lock-up journalists
for hours to present and analyse annual budgets which these days
contain very little market sensitive information, although substantial
tax reform this year could change all that? If budget lock-ups are
still to be justified, surely the Howard Government should have been
more sensitive to continuous disclosure in yesterday’s effort.

The media policy formulation process remains an insider’s job. Labor’s
Stephen Conroy was right to claim that media moguls have been consulted
for a year, whilst the public is only given one month to make
submissions.

It will be interesting to see if PBL and News Corp even bother to make
a public submission because failure to do so would just reaffirm the
perception that they can do backroom deals with politicians.

Senator Coonan apparently wanted to go a lot further but was reigned in
by the Prime Minister in a meeting in Sydney last Friday after he
returned from India. It doesn’t appear that the broader package even
went to a full cabinet meeting, once again highlighting how policy
comes down to the PM dispensing largesse to different media moguls
depending on their level of political support.

The public interest has once against finished a distant last as
Australia shuns news technologies and policies that would clearly be of
benefit to consumers, despite threatening the empires of the
moguls.

Peter Fray

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