John Howard and Helen Coonan are spouting nothing short of arrogant nonsense as they try to claim that the current media takeover frenzy has nothing to do with the new media ownership laws.
The PM’s interview on AM this morning was just laughable and his government is clearly embarrassed.
For starters, the PBL Media deal with CVC Asia Pacific is deliberately structured to get around the current laws through the use of a $982 million convertible note.
Once the foreign ownership restrictions on television licences are lifted when the new laws come into effect early next year, this note will convert into a 50% equity stake in PBL Media that would be unlawful today.
The Seven Network raid on WA News is a little different in that Kerry Stokes could indeed have bought 14.9% of the company at any point over the past 20 years.
However, the key point is that he never bothered because the law would have forced him to sell Seven in Perth if he wanted to go any higher or gain board representation. Why would Stokes want to sit there with an utterly powerless passive stake?
The whole point of buying into WA News is that he’ll move to take it over next and integrate the paper with his Seven news service in WA whilst becoming the king of Perth. Stokes’s old business partner Jack Bendat had no doubt about the game plan in The Australian this morning.
Therefore, these two deals have both happened precisely because of the new laws, yet the PM’s defence is to claim it has nothing to do with them.
Steve Fielding from the soon-to-be renamed party Packer Family First, tried the same defence with 774 ABC Melbourne’s Jon Faine this morning, but he was quickly told to “leave that one alone”.
Fielding is certainly squirming about his meeting with James Packer last week and so he should be. Given the extraordinary PBL auction process that was outlined in The AFR this morning, it is no surprise that James Packer personally visited Fielding to twist his arm.
Cynics are now looking back at the big run that Family First got on Channel Nine’s Sunday program before the Federal election and wondering if this came up in any of the discussions.