Crikey editor Misha Ketchell writes:

Will Helen Coonan’s proposed new media laws allow a
significant concentration of media power? Anyone who claims they know the answer to that question is kidding themselves. The
final call on whether to greenlight media mergers will be in the hands
of ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel, and he’s too smart to make any firm
commitments before the legislation has even been introduced in
parliament.

Yet the backbenchers have been a little skittish, so
to reassure everyone that we’re not in for a free-for-all that will significantly reduce media diversity, Coonan has asked Samuel to put out
this discussion paper
on how he will use his power. It landed yesterday, and this morning the
papers are full of breathless reports about how we can sleep easy at
night because Samuel will be tough on mergers. Joseph Kerr and Jane
Schulze in The Australian write:

The prospect of major media mergers has dimmed, however, after the
competition regulator yesterday released complex guidelines detailing
how it will adjudicate media mergers. Stressing that people living in rural and remote Australia need
access to local news and advertising, the commission will be the
bulwark against a loss of media diversity if the Government is
successful in removing cross-media and foreign ownership laws later
this year.

Bollocks. Samuel is making some reassuring noises, but what does his
paper actually change? He refuses to contemplate “hypothetical” mergers
on the ground that “questions can only be answered once the ACCC has
had the opportunity… to comprehensively
investigate a proposed merger.” But looking at whether a particular
merger would be approved is also the only meaningful way of testing of
what sort of outcomes Samuel might deliver when put to the test. The
rest is just spin – all 53 carefully-worded pages of it.

You
can believe what Samuel whispers in your ear if you wish. He’s been a
strong regulator so far and he might yet turn out to be a good
protector of media diversity and Australian consumers. But it’d be
crazy to think his sweet nothings are any substitute for a sensible
policy that actually guarantees Australians a reasonable level of media
diversity.

A good regulator isn’t an antidote to a bad law.