Peter Costello’s amendment to limit media companies from being in more than two out of three mediums in either regional or metropolitan areas is obviously a step forward from allowing someone into television, newspapers and radio.
However, the situation is still totally undesirable when you consider the enormous power wielded by Australia’s two richest and most powerful families, the Murdochs and the Packers.
It is fundamentally unhealthy for a democracy, which boasts the sad record of having the world highest rate of per capita gambling spending, to have a globetrotting casino mogul as the controller of Australia’s most powerful television network.
Cartoon: Andrew Weldon
However, we then have the bizarre situation of these new ownership regulations completely ignoring the fact that PBL is also Australia’s biggest magazine publisher, owns 25% of Foxtel and has a 50% stake in NineMSN.
Add to the mix the fact that Australia’s most powerful shock jock, Alan Jones, is a paid Packer fixer working for another old Packer mate in John Singleton and you start to get a picture of how the power is wielded.
So why would we embrace new laws to allow PBL to buy Fairfax and News Ltd, which still controls an unprecedented 65% of Australia’s newspapers, to buy either Seven or Ten?
News Ltd continues to fight the changes but this basically boils down to Rupert wanting to launch his own free-to-air network rather than pay oligopoly prices that will just confirm sworn enemy Kerry Stokes as a billionaire and get the Packer family wealth closer to the Murdochs.
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The Australian’s editorial today was a combination of frustration and threats, including this:
She (Coonan) offers no coherent argument why a media company will be allowed to own only two of a television station, a radio station and a newspaper. (Is Peter Costello really backing this old-world media division?) And she offers no rational reason for continuing to ban anyone from setting up a new free-to-air television station. (Do Kerry Stokes and James Packer really have that much political sway over the Government?)
The reality of these reforms is that John Howard is continuing to thank Kerry Packer for changing horses so dramatically in 1995 while Rupert is being punished for backing Keating to the end.
The government also thinks it is easier to do deals if there are fewer proprietors on the paddock. Diversity is no good if you want to remain in power by distributing largesse to the gatekeepers who inform the public.