Margaret Simons writes:


Last Wednesday’s item (Crikey April 19 Item 17) accusing journalists and the ALP of a limp
response to Senator Coonan’s proposed media reforms has drawn some prickly
response – and I may have spoken a little too soon. The Media, Entertainment
and Arts Alliance has put in a thoughtful submission that actually does more than knock – it proposes alternatives, including requiring
the free to air television networks to multichannel, while meeting Australian
content standards. The Alliance also argues for a new commercial free to air television licence and
a new national indigenous television network.

Don’t
hold your breath for any of this.

Meanwhile, The Age Independence Committee has put in a submission,
and Senator Conroy’s office has been in touch with links to material here, here and here as evidence that the
shadow minister has indeed had things to say, rather than being too busy with
things factional, as I suggested. Fair enough. But with the
partial exception of the Alliance, most activists are just knocking,
not suggesting. The campaigners are against Coonan, but not for anything in particular. This just
won’t do.

So what should journalists
and others concerned about good journalism be campaigning for?

For example, should cross
media ownership restrictions remain in place for ever, or are we prepared to
concede that the day might come when convergence makes them irrelevant, or
worse? And if we do concede this, then when should they be changed? Coonan
suggests either next year, or when the analogue television signal is switched
off between 2010 and 2012.

There is a huge difference
between the two dates, given the speed at which media is changing. At the very
least, we should be arguing for the later date. But a lot else needs to
happen before the cross media ownership regulations are changed.

There are the new digital “Datacasting”
channels to be launched next year. It has been suggested Fairfax
might get one, but perhaps they should be reserved for entirely new media
players. What about a campaign for one of them to be devoted to innovative
journalistic content, exploring new formats and new relationships with
audiences?

And as the Alliance suggests, we should be arguing for
multichannelling, but with mandated content standards. We should be in favour
of a fourth commercial free to air television network.

Perhaps most important of
all we need to think about what government can do to allow more
independent journalism. For example, can
anything be done with competition law to protect the stand alone journalist in dealings with big media?

Knocking the Government’s
ideas may be necessary, but it’s not enough. Responses and ideas, please, to MargaretSimons@msn.com.au