The concentration of media ownership, stacking of public
broadcasters and the erosion of Parliament’s ability to hold the government
accountable have made the cross-media laws more relevant today than ever
before. Any relaxation of these laws in the current climate will have serious
implications for the health of Australian democracy.

Media ownership in Australia
is already highly concentrated by OECD standards. This has enabled the major
media players, particularly News Ltd and PBL, to have a disproportionate
influence on democratic processes. The easing of the cross-media restrictions
will lead to a further concentration of media ownership, resulting in a reduction
in the diversity of information and opinion available to the public.

To justify the changes to the media laws, the government and the major media players claim that greater flexibility will enhance
innovation and efficiency, while the rise in new media will ensure diversity.
This view has gained support from a number of prominent individuals, including
the current head of the ACCC, Graeme Samuel.

But the claims about the new media being the defender of
pluralism are a diversion. The real reason for the proposed changes is simply
that they will benefit the large media proprietors. This is why the likes of
PBL and News Ltd have been pushing them for the better part of 15 years. The government’s
willingness to grant them their wish does not stem from any rationally
defensible policy position, but rather a desire to repay past favours and avoid
reprisals.

Allowing the further concentration of the commercial media
sector will harm Australia’s
democracy. Rather than kowtowing to the major media players, the government
should be promoting greater media diversity, re-establishing the independence
of the public broadcasters and enhancing the accountability functions of
Parliament.

Peter Fray

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