The Government’s media law reforms may have been close to defeat last week, Crikey understands – but as the old saying goes, a miss is as good as a mile. And as another old saw says, as you sow, so shall you reap.

Some commentators might be expressing alarm over Stokes’ entry into the West Australian newspaper business, and scratching their heads over PBL’s bid to sell before the corpse of Australian media has cooled, but Barnaby Joyce isn’t surprised.

The Nationals Senator from Queensland told Crikey this morning that he anticipated this response from the media moguls, “I understand that people are predator or prey in this market and corporations are trying to make money. That’s what they do.”

“When there’s money on the line… people are smart…They would have known about this for a fair while,” says Joyce, who crossed the floor on cross media changes and fought for several amendments to Helen Coonan’s media legislation. “The market was already anticipating this, with rather spectacular rises and invulnerable media stocks prior to the legislation getting full passage.”

“People aren’t buying these huge stocks because they believe in the power of the internet….They’ve done their due diligence and they believe in the power of papers, radio and TV. Plus they’re involved with the internet as well.”

Joyce confirmed that there was alarm amongst some of his Canberra colleagues over the lightning fast nature of the media frenzy, but said “alarm’s not good enough.”

“Family First completely changed their views from thinking we needed protection to thinking we don’t need it at all,” says Joyce.

“The media filters the message and can influence votes… The media has exceptional powers in our nation,” the Senator says, warning now of “manipulation of the media and democracy.”

The fact that his crossing the floor on cross media wasn’t even reported is a taste of what’s to come, says the Senator. “There wasn’t a wide reporting of cross media reforms and it should have been front page news for every paper, the fact that there wasn’t has some suggestions – was their interference?”

As for the perception that the general public doesn’t care about this stuff – “it’s wrong,” says Joyce. “The average punter is as uncomfortable as hell about it…”

Punters and party members, it seems. Joyce’s Nationals now may face some as you sow, so shall you reap issues of their own.

Their Senate leader and Joyce’s fellow Queenslander, Ron Boswell, held a meeting with the Prime Minister on Thursday morning, just before the vote on the media bills.

Boswell – who faces preselection for his Senate slot later this year – has expressed his concerns with the legislation in both the party room and in public.

A Nationals abstention would have allowed amendments moved by Joyce and supported by Family First’s Steve Fielding to strengthen the test of an independent media “voice” to succeed. One wasn’t forthcoming.

Now, Crikey hears of speculation that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, NSW Nationals Senator Sandy Macdonald, who lost his own Senate preselection to a candidate from the Joyce mould, John “Wacka” Williams, at the start of the month, could resign from the frontbench within weeks.

And that could spark off more uncomfortable debate about the role and direction of the Nationals – not just within the party, but within the Government as a whole.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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