From the way everyone is gleefully piling in to Kerry Stokes in the wake of his comprehensive defeat in the C7 case, we can conclude that he is no longer regarded as an underdog, and that the mighty media moguls he has antagonised intend to make him feel the cost of his impertinence. The knives have been out for Kerry Stokes for a while, and now they are unsheathed and sharpened.
From the luxurious position of not being a shareholder but merely a citizen, there are reasons to hope that Stokes doesn’t back down and goes for an appeal – despite all the judicial hurrumphing about mega-litigation, the heavy cost to the court system, the litigants and the shareholders.
There are big and important issues involved.
The C7 case is about access to communications infrastructure in the information age. This is one of the big issues of our decade. Big media, particularly the likes of Telstra and the Macquarie Bank, have every reason to cheer any court decision that assists them to stitch up infrastructure with what Justice Sackville described as tough and aggressive, but not illegal behaviour.
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Well, perhaps it should be illegal.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has fought hard to try to ensure fair and competitive access to communications infrastructure. The C7 court decision will not help that battle.
Some are claiming that consumers have lost from Stokes taking this action. This is bunkum, largely peddled by commentators whose employers have intense interest in discouraging any further legal challenge to their dominance. How can consumers benefit from less competition and fewer services?
Remember when the C7 saga began there were three television providers in Australia – Optus, Foxtel and Austar. Now there are only two, with Optus having vacated the field. Foxtel has been tipped as likely to take over Austar. All this at the same time as free to air bids farewell to its glory days, and some method of paying for content is clearly the way of the future for quality media.
So will Stokes appeal? I wouldn’t want to be paying the bills, but I agree with Professor Jock Given who says in this piece:
We need not hold any affinity for either side of the Kerry Stokes vs The World show to feel uneasy about the comprehensiveness of this access-seeker’s defeat or to sense there may be merit in seeing this particular fight through to a further, publicly-arbitrated conclusion.