You
can’t help but agree with the News Ltd opposition to the media changes proposed
by Senator Coonan. News
has slagged them terribly and
today its Australian chairman, John Hartigan,
indicated he and the company wanted the chance to talk to the Minister again –
and to National Party backbenchers – about the shortcomings it sees in the proposed
changes.

Once
you understand where News is coming from (basically it wants a free-to-air
commercial TV licence in Australia), you can’t help but agree with Hartigan and the likes of columnist
Terry McCrann.

McCrann said the changes would
‘postpone the future. Actually, to postpone the
present.” Colorful but accurate.

McCrann said that the three
existing commercial networks get first crack at a new digital multi-channel from
2010 and when analogue is turned off, they will be allowed to go full digital
multi-channel without any guarantee of additional competition.

According to News Ltd’s
Australian executive chairman, John Hartigan the
Coonan changes to media laws “short change consumers” and that for a “Liberal
Government it was alarmingly protectionist”.

Speaking on the ABC local radio in Sydney Hartigan said that “it was not about consumer protection, it
is about industry protection” … “We’ve
been waiting for so long, we’ve been short-changed”.

He said
News thought “free to air TV should not be protected’. he said the networks collectively made around $700 million in
profits while News had invested millions of dollars in subscription TV which was
‘under attack.”

He said
claims that our free to air network TV was world class was “very
questionable”

He told
the ABC there was no sign of any innovation unlike in the US where the
move by News to establish a new TV Network (Fox) had led to greater choice and
innovation for American TV viewers.

He said
the extra channels allowed under the Coonan proposals would “largely see the
same sort of content we see on free to air TV here”.

He said
he wanted to discuss the changes with Senator Coonan again and would want to
talk to the backbench, especially the National Party about the
changes.

He said
he though the changes would not be more protective of PBL “than anyone
else”.

He said
he had ‘the highest regard’ for Senator Coonan as a minister but believed she
had “tried to please too many people”

He also
said there was no falling out with the Packer interests at PBL: he told Virginia
Trioli that News was in business with PBL in a number
of areas.

But he
said that when Australia’s biggest TV star is
installed to run Nine, and then when they start sacking
staff and cutting the pay of their stars, it became a big
story.

And
then when they try to suppress the news with an injunction and then ‘they
subpoena those who leaked it’, if that’s “not a big story then I’m not
here”.

He said
James Packer, the executive chairman of PBL, had
emerged as a very good business in the past couple of years.

Hartigan also played down whether
News had any merger and acquisition interest in the media if the changes go
through.

He said
M&A ‘certainly wouldn’t be one of our first moves.”

Peter Fray

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