Does anyone else question Rupert Murdoch’s opposition to relaxing
Australia’s cross-media ownership laws? The Sun King puzzled many
observers when he told the PM over lunch at Kirribilli and then
declared to the wider world that he did not support any changes to
Australia’s media ownership laws.

“Tear up everything, and make it an open go for everybody, otherwise leave it
alone,” Cyclone Rupert declared to reporters after The Bulletin hailed him as the most influential Australian.

As with any sweeping reform package, there will be elements that each player likes and hates.
By declaring his opposition to any change, Rupert was both cranking up
pressure on the Howard Government to ease the ridiculous anti-siphoning
regime that constrains Foxtel and open up more competition for the
highly protected free-to-air television oligopoly.

However, it also made the relaxation of foreign and cross-media
ownership restrictions more politically acceptable because the Howard
Government can now say they are doing something that Rupert was opposed
to.

But what does Rupert really think? Of course he supports liberating
foreign ownership. Why would a foreign company oppose foreign
investment? Sure, it does stop The Washington Post from launching a daily tabloid in competition with Rupert’s lucrative monopoly Brisbane paper, The Courier Mail, but that isn’t about to happen any time soon.

The real issue here is cross-media ownership. The Murdoch and Packer
families have long been the two most influential private empires in
Australia. Their excessive influence has been more bad than good for
Australians who are now the world’s biggest gamblers per capita, behind
the global digital technology game and mired in Iraq, partly as a
result of their power.

Of course News Corp will look closely at buying the likes of Ten,
Seven, Nine, Southern Cross Broadcasting and Austereo. The synergies
and cross-promotion that would come from also controlling a lot of
Hollywood content and 70% of Australia’s newspapers make the economics
of such a takeover compelling.

The same applies with Fairfax and PBL’s media assets being pooled
into a new structure in which the Packer family are the largest
shareholder. However, all of this would be bad for Australia, cementing
our shoddy political system which has long seen backroom deals done
where the moguls extract commercial benefits in return for political
endorsement.

As we all sift through the fine details of Helen Coonan’s package
today, remind yourself that it will inevitably deliver even more power
and wealth to the Murdochs and Packers who have long demonstrated that
they are not fit to wield it responsibly.

Peter Fray

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