The ACCC discussion paper on how it would handle media mergers has
generated plenty of heat, but perhaps we should look at the regulator’s
recent actions in approving the takeover of Rehame by Media Monitors
for a sign of what lies ahead. PR guru Ian Kortlang, who has sat on the
board of Media Monitors for
the past two years, provided an interesting insight at the MEAA public
affairs conference in Sydney last week.

Whilst many observers felt that allowing the two biggest media
monitoring players to merge to create a giant with an 80% market share
was bad policy, Kortlang said the ACCC accepted the argument that
Google provided enough competition to keep the industry giant honest.

Surely not! The media monitoring giant 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.

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 auction, there chances would be severely hindered.

Sure, you can always set up a web site but you 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.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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