Let’s be clear: the federal government’s proposed media law changes will be extremely unhealthy for Australian democracy and for the political management of the country.
If some of the major television and newspaper interests were to merge as a result of these proposed laws, media power would be consolidated in ways that would never have been contemplated in the past.
If a media owner with this level of power decided to turn his guns on one political party, for example, that would almost guarantee that party would lose an election. The power in a few hands would be enormous. And which minister or parliamentarian would risk antagonising a proprietor who possessed so much power?
If the new laws pass, the remaining media owners will have an enormous capacity to influence opinion and ration news. You only have to look at the news and opinion page coverage now between Fairfax and News Limited newspapers to see a major difference – and to see that one of our two major newspaper publishers is already heavily influenced by the views of American neo-conservatives.
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In any case, support for the end of the cross-media rules is not, in reality, support for a free market because there are still many regulations left in place. The most important thing is that existing television stations are protected from competition.
And even before any more concentration occurs there is already a severe limitation on Australian media. In my time in politics there were seven or eight major newspaper proprietors, a number which has now been cut in half.
The proposed cross-media changes would almost certainly cut the number of proprietors even further – and it says something about the character of a nation that would allow this to happen.