Does anyone – apart from the government and most media proprietors – believe the proposed new media laws are good for Australia? We did a sweep of commentators in the major media and, amid criticism all round, we could find just one positive view:

  • The problem with maintaining intrusive regulation of the broadcast media for another half decade at least is that it slows and distorts the emergence of new players, content, platforms and services. It artificially anoints winners and losers from policy rather than letting the market sort it out, as would happen if the sector were completely deregulated and the available spectrum auctioned off to the highest bidder to use as they saw fit. – Stephen Bartholomeusz, The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 July 2006
  • The risk of an incestuous local ownership consolidation and a diminution of separate voices is real. That makes the Competition and Consumer Commission a crucial player… If not, the big players will be entrenched before the digital age that was meant to challenge them arrives. – Malcolm Maiden, The Age, 14 July
  • … Only tentative predictions can be made about the media landscape that will emerge from the storm, but it won’t resemble the current one … It is all too cautious … The big newspaper and TV companies that were intended to be protected by cross-media and other rules are instead struggling to fight off the threat from the internet. The new media policy, like the old one, risks being made redundant by technology … – Editorial, Australian Financial Review, 14 July
  • …on any reading the package released yesterday was meagre … The revolution in media is coming through technology, not changes in the media law, which on the package presented yesterday were evolutionary at best … Rupert Murdoch was right to say the government should have simply thrown all the rules into the bin and … to be concerned that the outcome would be a distinctly unlevel playing field … At least there are some small steps planned until a government with vision and genuine political will takes the wheel. – John Durie, Australian Financial Review, 14 July
  • … while companies in traditional media sectors such as free-to-air television, newspapers and radio plot their moves – searching for the ever-important first-mover advantage – and foreign investors run their numbers on Australian media companies, the relentless rise of new media such as the internet and mobile phones will make many of Coonan’s changes redundant. – Neil Shoebridge, Financial Review, 15 July
  • Right now it is impossible for media proprietors to cast their final verdicts on the government’s vision for datacasting and anti-siphoning for the simple reason that there are no decisions, only in-principle commitments. – David Crowe, Financial Review, 15 July
  • Communications Minister Helen Coonan deserves credit for her perseverance in pushing reforms to take account of swiftly changing media technologies, but they have been so long in the gestation, and so tailored to the interests of an industry dominated by a handful of major players, that many Australians might be left feeling distinctly underwhelmed by their relevance and usefulness. – Editorial, The Canberra Times, 15 July
  • There are two contrasting but appropriate responses to the brave new world of media policy and development unveiled by Communications Minister Helen Coonan. Outrage and disappointment … Their [the networks’] tardiness in promoting digital over the last six years is rewarded not simply by giving them another (at least) six years of exclusivity. But encouraging them to continue to be tardy to maintain their cartel! – Terry McCrann, The Australian, 15 July
  • …the package is conservative by comparison with the media revolution itself … There has been extensive consultation with industry on this package, and it shows in its heavily compromised arrangements. Less regard has been given to how more content of value will be produced for more channels and platforms – although the increased value assigned to primary content generators such as Fairfax shows the market understands content cannot be taken for granted. – Editorial, The Age, 15 July
  • Helen Coonan’s long-awaited media “reform” package fails any rational test of what constitutes good public policy. It promises less diversity of traditional media ownership without the compensation of a liberalised new-media environment … The “new” digital reform measures still rely on the networks to drive the penetration that would undermine their own economics. – Stephen Bartholomeusz, The Age, 15 July
  • It is a compromise, designed to protect what it can of the excess profits – or “economic rents” – of the free-to-air television oligopoly. It protects the incumbent free-to-air telecasters from the competition made possible by technological change. And in doing so it cheats the consumer – and the wider economy – of the full benefits of the new digital broadcasting technology. – Alan Mitchell, Financial Review, 17 July

With perhaps one exception…

  • So who is happy? Consumers should be, because they will now get more choice, with up to eight new free channels from 2009 … Overall, the package has credibility and balance. After a decade of argy-bargy, it just might get through the Senate relatively unscathed. – Mark Day, The Australian, 14 July

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey