What is going on with Labor’s media policy? Shadow Spokesman Stephen Conroy has predictably slammed what the Government has done and promised a “pro-diversity” policy after Labor’s national conference in April, without saying a word about what he would do differently.

Then in Friday’s announcement of Labor’s planned $3 billion of cost cutting, the Opposition announced it would save $22.1 million by reversing Minister Helen Coonan’s decisions to create Digital Australia and increase funding for the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Very brave, as Sir Humphrey might say. And quite possibly not fully thought through.

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Digital Australia is to be the main agency charged with the vital job of pushing Australia towards a digital broadcasting future. Its role is outlined here.

Meanwhile ACMA already has a reputation for slowness, particularly in dealing with public complaints, and has recently been given lots of extra homework. Mark Day detailed the existing workload here, and this is just the start. Once Coonan’s media ownership regulations are proclaimed, ACMA’s workload will balloon as media mergers are proposed and need to be assessed. Just today plans for ACMA and the ACCC to share information were announced.

So what will Labor do instead? This morning Conroy’s office was initially confused about whether the plan was to ditch Digital Australia or to get the industry to fund it. Once that was sorted, Conroy’s office said that Digital Australia would be ditched because its functions could be handled within the Department of Communications from existing resources. The creation of Digital Australia was mere “face saving” after ten years of government bungling, Conroy’s spokesman said.

There is something in that. The bungling is undeniable.

But as for ACMA, Conroy’s office says the reason for its increased workload is the Minister’s “obsession with ducking the tough decisions and hand balling political issues to ACMA… This would not be the case under a Labor government.”

Yeah, yeah. Sure, sure.

While there is truth in the line about ducking tough decisions there is no indication from Conroy as to how he expects ACMA to do all its current work plus the extra resulting from media mergers without more resources.

Surely Conroy is not suggesting that the Minister should decide which media mergers are allowed and which should be blocked?

And it is a bit rich for Conroy to run the “ducking” line when Labor has failed to say what it will do if it comes to power and the media ownership laws have not been proclaimed. Now there’s a tough one, and so far it is Labor that is doing the ducking.

Roll on national conference. If Conroy can’t come up with something gutsy and workable after that, we will all know who is the duck.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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