Will the Labor Party kybosh the relaxation of cross media ownership laws by committing to repealing the changes, and forcing sell offs if there have been mergers, as suggested by Paul Keating over the weekend and advocated by some backbenchers?

The Shadow Minister for Communications, Stephen Conroy, certainly isn’t sticking his neck out. This morning his office told Crikey there were a number of options available, that policy would be developed in the lead up to the national conference (there’s a thought), and that the party would consult widely, yada yada yada.

“Relevant legal issues” would be taken into account, including whether the Commonwealth might have to pay compensation. Also “the capacity of the ACCC to block mergers which reduce media diversity will be much clearer. Labor will take that experience into account in formulating its policy response.”

Paul Keating can afford to be bold from retirement, of course, and Conroy has a harder road to hoe in working out what the ALP’s motherhood opposition to further concentration of ownership might mean in practice.

All the same, his statement makes it sound as though the horse will have well and truly bolted before the ALP decides what it is going to do, or not do as the case may be.

On the other hand, in a sop to the need for new entrants, Coonan has made it clear that the laws won’t come into effect at least until the Datacasting licences have been auctioned. This means, as Conroy’s office points out, that February next year will be the earliest the changes will come into effect, and my guess is that it will be later than that.

Not much hope there – but the game’s not quite over yet.

Peter Fray

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