The National Party’s fears of
media consolidation in regional Australia could be a step closer to
reality after Tim Hughes, the executive chairman of the Macquarie Media
Fund, revealed his media asset shopping list includes regional
television networks in markets where he owns radio networks.

Hughes,
who already controls 86 Australian regional radio stations and a
diversified cable television company in Taiwan, told Eureka Report
editor James Kirby – in an interview to be published later today: “I
think our regional radio stations which are local-based would fit very
well with a regional television network … we’ve got strict guidelines
over what characteristics assets must have and we’ve got the Macquarie
offices around the world scouring for deals.”

The cashed-up
Macquarie Media Fund is already the biggest holder of radio licences in
regional Australia, and Hughes’s comments make it clear he’s interested
in becoming what the National Party has described as a rural
“mini-mogul” – owning TV and radio assets (but probably not newspapers)
in one rural or regional market.

His comments come just days
after reports that the National Party MP Paul Neville has raised
concerns about the effect of cross-media reform on regional
communities. “Even now some regional radio stations don’t even have
local news bulletins or local presenter presence. I don’t think there
should be an unbridled concentration of ownership”, Neville said
earlier this week.

A survey released on Monday by Independent
Regional Radio, the regional media industry group, predicted
cross-media law reforms allowing companies to own diversified media
outlets (such as radio and TV in a single market) would restrict
diversity in 47 of the nation’s 96 regional media markets.

Profits
at the listed MMG are currently split 50/50 between Australia and
overseas. But some analysts expect the group will concentrate largely
on overseas media in the hunt for future acquisitions.

Peter Fray

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