The Communications Minister says we should all relax because media diversity will be protected by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. But, like so much of the debate about the dismantling of Australia’s media laws, that’s a slippery, smelly and wholly disingenuous red herring.
The real question is: can the ACCC do anything to preserve diversity of news coverage, opinion, commentary and what the Prime Minister himself describes as one of the “three great institutional pillars” of Australian democracy – “a free and sceptical press”? Can the ACCC protect the Fourth Estate?
Of course not. That’s not its job. The ACCC’s mandate, in its own words, is to:
Promote competition and fair trade in the market place to benefit consumers, business and the community. It also regulates national infrastructure services. Its primary responsibility is to ensure that individuals and businesses comply with the Commonwealth competition, fair trading and consumer protection laws.
The ACCC is the marketplace regulator. Its job is to administer the Trade Practices Act. As ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel put it recently, the ACCC’s remit is to “seek to ensure that media proprietors cannot lessen competition or inhibit the emergence of new players or products by tying up access to compelling content.”
The great tragedy of the laws crafted by the government and waved through by Senator Fielding last week is that they represent a direct attack on the role of the media, described belatedly by The Age today as “an independent press … essential for freedom of opinion and public enlightenment”.
No-one should care particularly about diversity of ownership of sitcoms, soapies, music or popular entertainment. What they should care about is diversity of ownership of news, ideas and opinions. And there is absolutely nothing the ACCC or any other regulator can do about that.