Disinformation comes in many guises and is, by definition, hard to identify. That’s its objective.

The
disinformation strategy currently being deployed by Australia’s leading
media companies is a case study for future students of the Art of Spin.
And, perhaps, a case study in the Abuse of Power.

Australia’s
leading media companies want everyone to think that they’re not
particularly interested in changing the media laws. They definitely
want people – especially politicians who are likely to be voting on
media reform legislation later this year – to think that their focus is
on “new media” and not on buying up “old media” if the cross-media
restrictions are lifted.

The last thing the big media
companies want is for politicians to be spooked by the spectre of the
new legislation triggering a media asset buying spree by the Packers
and Murdochs, which would lead to even greater concentration of
Australian media ownership and power in the hands of the two dominant
family-controlled empires.

Over recent months they have been
successfully counteracting that potential impression by briefing
journalists, using their own in-house commentators as mouthpieces, and
making public statements that stick carefully to a script which
includes phrases like these:

Fairfax itself has downplayed the prospect of
buying up any “old media” assets, saying it favoured expanding its
internet division. Yahoo Business News

“The
politicians are finally going to allow print and free-to-air to merge
precisely when nobody really wants to do it. The only people for
example that believe Packer’s PBL, owner of course of the Nine Network,
has the slightest interest in John Fairfax, are the dwindling remnants
of the old Fairfax cold war warriors, still living wistfully in the
1980s. The forward thinkers in media are aiming to grow out from old
media into new.” – Terry McCrann, Business Sunday

Rupert Murdoch at the last AGM said he wasn’t interested in buying Australian television stations. – PM,ABC radio

James Packer also quashed rumours that PBL might be looking to off-load Channel Nine, saying there are no plans for a sale. – Lateline, ABC television

Fairfax
Chairman Ron Walker in January ruled out buying a television network,
saying the publisher will focus on expanding on the Internet. Bloomberg

It
was the idea that the game has moved on from the traditional media
conglomerates of the early 1980s that prompted Ron Walker, the new
chairman of John Fairfax, to declare recently that Fairfax was no
longer interested in a television licence. Echoing News Corp chairman
Rupert Murdoch’s epiphany of last year, Walker said digital was
Fairfax’s future. The Age

James
Packer – who clearly has more of an electronic bent than his father –
said he had no interest in acquiring the “underperforming” newspaper
publisher if Canberra relaxed the cross-media ownership regulations.
“When people talk about cross media in relation to us, they’re really
talking about Fairfax,” said Packer, whose media operations are run by
the former Fairfax executive John Alexander. “…I wouldn’t want to buy
John Fairfax if cross-media rules changed. – The Age

James
Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd has been disavowing interest
in the Fairfax newspaper group, long seen as its natural prey, and
Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited appears to be lukewarm at best about
returning to free-to-air television ownership in Australia. – Mark Day,
The Australian

Some
things are immediately apparent: the Coonan plan will not trigger an
immediate round of mergers among media companies. So much of the detail
is still up for grabs that it is simply impossible to predict the final
lie of the land. – Mark Day,The Australian

“I
don’t believe any of the media companies are going to make hostile bids
for anybody else. I believe what will happen will be consensual.” –
Former Fairfax CEO Fred Hilmer, ABC 7.30 Report

The only way this would turn out not
to be a disinformation campaign, as the participants undoubtedly deny
it is, would be if the current cross-media laws were abolished and then
News, PBL and Fairfax did not subsequently engage in an asset buying spree.

That’s not just a big IF, it’s an unbelievable IF.

Peter Fray

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