The ACCC discussion paper on how it would handle media mergers in a deregulated ownership environment has generated plenty of debate about which way Graeme Samuel would jump if presented with a big takeover proposal. However, perhaps the best insight comes from the regulator’s recent actions in approving the takeover of Rehame by Media Monitors.

PR guru Ian Kortlang, a director of Media Monitors since 2004, provided an interesting insight at the MEAA public affairs conference in Sydney last week. While many observers felt it was bad policy to allow the two biggest media monitoring players to merge, creating a giant with an 80% market share, Kortlang said the ACCC accepted the argument that Google provided enough competition to keep the industry giant honest.

Surely not! The media monitoring industry generates the vast majority of its revenue by selling material under licence (neither Rehame or Media Monitors ever paid me a cent) that is not available on Google – things like audio of radio interviews, television video,electronic media transcripts, The AFR and local papers that don’t give their material away online.

They are also good for sourcing archive material which is no longer available online – such as the Crikey items on Steve Price that Rehame sold without a licence to the shock jock during our defamation battle in 2001.

If the media monitoring market is allowed an effective monopoly on the strength of Google, what will the ACCC say when PBL wants to buy Fairfax and Austereo and News Corp aspires to take over Southern Cross Broadcasting and Network Ten to become the king of talk radio and youth television?

The argument that the internet breaks down barriers to entry simply doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to political power and the old media, but this won’t cover the “market” definitions that the ACCC will look at when assessing takeovers.

Take the forthcoming Queensland, NSW and Victorian state elections as an example. If The Courier Mail, Daily Telegraph or Herald Sun decided to run a campaign against any political party or deny them any media oxygen, that party’s chances would be severely hindered.

Sure, you can always set up a website, but who would read it? The BBC and The New York Times are now accessible globally but they won’t carry a word on these state elections in Australia. The old media will dominate the debate and drive the agenda, so why would you want to slash the amount of diversity available to voters?

Accepting the Google argument in allowing a media monitoring monopoly is a worrying sign as we count down to a vote on the Howard Government’s dangerous new media ownership laws – especially when old media companies already dominate online media in Australia.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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