Senator Helen Coonan is under pressure from
several sides. On the one hand, National
Party MPs are calling for changes to her package to protect diversity in
regional media. And on the other hand,
Fairfax CEO David Kirk is drawing attention to the importance of what he
correctly describes as “the only short-term diversity dividend” in the
package of media reforms: namely the conditions to be set for the two new
datacasting licences to be issued next year.
This is really important because it is the only short-term benefit consumers
will see from Coonan’s much vaunted digital action plan.

Coonan has failed to provide enough detail for us
to be able to assess what she proposes, but there are worrying signs. In her
discussion paper last March Coonan said that these new licences should not be
awarded to existing broadcasting networks. But in the package approved by
Cabinet, this proviso had disappeared. Kirk obviously noticed the omission.

Fairfax, as well as News Limited, claimed
to be more interested in Internet protocol television than datacasting, and
it’s easy to understand why. The
Internet, if not regulation free, is regulation “light”, whereas
datacasting is entirely defined by regulation.
Nevertheless there can be little doubt that Fairfax would be a
bidder for the licenses providing Coonan loosens the regulations enough for
them to be worth having.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey