Michael Pascoe writes:

The
excuse paraded by Senator Coonan for allowing a consolidation of media
ownership is that new technology will somehow work wonders for choice
and competition against the entrenched operators she is allowing to
become more powerful. It’s rubbish.

Rupert Murdoch has been running a line that, on the surface, looks similar:

News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch has warned that power is
tilting away from traditional media as consumers flock to the Internet,
posing a serious threat to existing business models. “Power is moving
away from the old elite in our industry – the editors, the chief
executives and, let’s face it, the proprietors,” he said in a speech to
a printing guild in London on Monday evening, a day after his 75th
birthday. A new generation of media consumers has risen demanding
content delivered when they want it, how they want it, and very much as
they want it.”

But while the medium might be changing,
ownership and control of it isn’t – and Rupert is pledging to spend
billions of dollars to make sure that’s the case.

Eureka Report colleague Alan Kohler best summarises the evidence that the same old firms end up controlling the game.

But
there are two other important aspects generally overlooked. First of
all, in so closely controlling what can be attempted, especially in the
protected free-to-air television space, Senator Coonan is effectively
claiming she knows how new technology will work out. In fact, she’s as
clueless as the rest of us.

The history of technological change
is that the eventual use generally turns out to be different from what
the designers contemplated, from Al Bell’s vision of what the telephone
might do to what WAP technology was supposed to be used. I still
vaguely remember something about Paul Keating wanting Australia to
become a giant in manufacturing CD-ROMs. What you can bet on, is that
the big players with the deep pockets and the content will end up
controlling anything that does work.

Secondly, the blushing
enthusiasm expressed for the wide variety of voices on the internet
always overlooks a substantial problem: opinion is free and everywhere,
but obtaining facts costs money.

The world can blog itself
silly, but you need committed media companies making a dollar out of it
or funded by the taxpayer to shoulder the burden of paying journalists
to go get the news. The example I use here is Paul McGeough’s reporting
for the Smage – it’s very costly and the amateur bloggers can’t
do it. The Smage is having trouble making money out of it as well,
which is a different worry again.

Finally, Coonan’s “snack TV”
is a joke. She’s going to allow the same sort of hugely unwatched
material that pads out Foxtel subscriptions to go out as digital TV
over 30 channels. Gee, that’ll really worry Seven, Nine and Ten.

The
financial strength of free-to-air television is its ability to package
up a large audience and deliver them to advertisers. Narrow casting
doesn’t make money and therefore it can’t spend money.

If this
passes parliament, we’ll be left with a more concentrated and powerful
media industry. And that will suit the existing players just fine.

Peter Fray

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