The relentless consolidation of Australian media ownership – a process the federal government describes approvingly as “diversity” – continues apace with today’s news that Fairfax is about to swallow the Southern Cross stable of talk radio stations (2UE in Sydney, 3AW in Melbourne, 4BC in Brisbane and 6PR in Perth).
This is just the latest convulsion in media ownership since the government introduced “reforms” which freed up government-favoured media owners to sell down their holdings for grotesque profits off the back of inflated share prices created by the legislation (James Packer and Kerry Stokes) — or bulk up their holdings thanks to removal of much of the cross-media restrictions (Rural Press and Fairfax).
Since the laws changed in October last year, the biggest media companies have grown even bigger and the medium-sized companies are disappearing. Two of the most significant mid-sized owners, Rural Press and now Southern Cross Broadcasting, have been swallowed by Fairfax. Another, West Australian Newspapers, is now effectively controlled by the Seven Network.
The federal government refers to what is happening to media ownership as a result of its legislation as public policy. But to anyone who cares about the future of journalism and diversity of media ownership there’s another description for this Darwinian process.
A tragedy for Australian democracy.