Michael Pascoe writes:

A principle of good government is to seek to limit the opportunities for corruption, to root out structures that encourage or at least lend themselves to corrupt practice. Unfortunately Senator Coonan’s mole hill of media reform yesterday seeks to confirm the existing structural corruption instead.

It could be argued that the record of Australian media laws and regulations is one long trail of corruption evidence – governments of both colours abandoning principle to curry favour with or avoid antagonising key media corporations. Nothing’s changed.

The easiest example is leaving the issue of foreign ownership of Australian media at Peter Costello’s discretion. There’s no difference really between that and, say, leaving the issues of PNG logging contracts or Indonesian construction contracts at the relevant local minister’s discretion.

The Treasurer has already shown he can’t be trusted with that responsibility. Foreign ownership of newspapers is already a matter of the Treasurer’s discretion. It’s discretion he has used to the benefit of Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd – arguably the most powerful media voice in the land and one that has the potential to become considerably more powerful under Senator Coonan’s reforms.

As we have documented in Crikey before, the Treasurer’s discretion has benefited Murdoch by preventing a foreign media company starting a new Adelaide newspaper in competition with News’s Advertiser. Even more stunning while blocking a Murdoch competitor, the Treasurer has exercised his discretion in interpreting “no new newspaper” to mean “ no new newspaper business” to allow the 100 per cent foreign entity News Corporation to itself start new newspapers here.

If you aspire to become Prime Minister of Australia, the record shows it helps to have the approval and support of most of the newspapers in the country, especially when those newspapers are controlled by someone who is happy to “align” their editorial policy to suit his political and business interests.

It would be an extremely rare politician who could withstand the temptation of being compromised. Certainly there’s no such politician on our horizon.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

What a year. Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW