Amid all the hooting and yelling about the latest media law
proposals, the thing that Coonan and Howard have glossed over is
how the Federal Government is now the biggest influence in media, having removed much of the power of the new authority, ACMA.

While it will have day to day control of regulation of the
broadcast media (not newspapers), ACMA’s power to say yes or no to a
new, fourth Free to Air network, will be removed and left with the
government.

Foreign takeover proposals for any media in Australia
will still need the approval of the Treasurer (won’t that set up a nice
bit
of tension between Cossie and Howard in the future!), while
anti-siphoning laws over important sporting events will
be controlled by ACMA and the government, with ministerial discretion
to be retained. Now that’s a recipe for controlling the likes of Nine,
Ten, Seven
and Foxtel!

Local content on regional TV and radio will be “monitored”
by ACMA and the government – what better way to enforce discipline on the
commercial TV and radio industry than to retain the power to introduce a fourth
commercial network or discipline them for a low level of local content.

None of these changes will see the light of day before
2009-2010. Another prime minister, perhaps, another government, or a loss of
Senate majority and all these proposals are history.

We will get some changes in the digital multi-channelling
area, but even there the regulation by ACMA and the government will determine
that nothing is broadcast that could disturb the existing electronic (TV) set
up of Nine, Seven, Ten and Foxtel basically controlling all forms of mass TV in
this country.

With one stroke, the power of Packer, Stokes, News Ltd, Telstra
and Ten interests (and any new owners) are subservient to the Government’s
will.

The Howard Government has allowed no freedom for new
competition and has retained control over the most important, cash and profit
rich areas of the media for the foreseeable future. In that, nothing much has changed. Making most of the headlines
(and the media frenzy in The Australian) just pap.

Peter Fray

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