As the Federal Government grapples with its plans to change
Australia’s media laws, we asked prominent Australians for their
thoughts on how the changes will affect the Australian media landscape.
Here are some responses:

David Williamson, playwright – By
any definition of press diversity we are barely a democracy in the real
sense right now. Politicians of both sides have appeased the media
barons in the hope of favourable coverage to a degree that is
unprecedented among the democratic nations. The increased concentration
of ownership stemming from the new laws will take us even further away
from informed debate about issues that impact on ordinary lives, and
will give us even less of the close scrutiny that’s needed to keep
abuses of power in check. Crikey and New Matilda are two of the few
sources of an alternative viewpoint on offer at present, and their
combined readership, with due respect, can’t hope to match the big
players. And if they did, the big players will buy them out too.

Flint, former Chairman of the Press Council, Chairman of the ABA and
Associate Commissioner of the ACCC and emeritus professor of law
believe that opening up media ownership will release creative forces
which will considerably enhance, rather than restrain, our democracy.
(The cross-media laws) were not necessary in the first place. They were
imposed probably more for political considerations, and in any event
have failed to prevent the subsequent increased concentration of
ownership. (A particular, and only subsequent consideration was an
almost obsessive fear of the late Kerry Packer. I suppose that seeing
what his argument, strength and charisma could do to politicians, when
he appeared before their committee, gave some justification for their
fear of the man.) … And I am not at all worried about the
relationship between the major media proprietors and the politicians
who regulate their industry, because I am not living in the past.
Because new technology, and the devolution of a great deal of power to
individual journalists, have emasculated, to a considerable degree, the
proprietors’ power over content.

(And though) I have sympathy
for any (journalists) who lose their jobs, I have more sympathy for,
say, the dairy farmers who as a result of so called competition policy,
promoted and virtually unquestioned in the media, have had their
returns so reduced they were driven off the land, while the consumer
pays more. The media were converted to be apostles for the free market;
why on earth, of all places, should the media then be declared to be a
sheltered workshop protected from those waves of creative destruction
prescribed by them for everybody else? The best way for the media to
develop and use all new technologies is through the market, not through
regulatory control or subsidy. The law in relation to monopolisation
and mergers is appropriate for most of Australian industry; the media
should not be exempted. Freedom of speech and the free flow of
information is not enhanced by such regulation – indeed it is held back.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey