The most significant changes in the wake of the Howard Government’s controversial cross media laws can be seen in the television and newspaper markets judging by data provided to Crikey by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Every six months ACMA prepares a list of “current controllers” of the Australian commercial media, including radio, television and newspapers. The list is used to enforce cross media laws which prescribe how much an individual or company can own.

Whenever someone assumes or ceases control of a media asset they are obliged to inform ACMA within five days. By comparing the list of notifications in the nine months before the proclamation of the new media laws on 4 April 2007 with the nine months since, it is possible to get a snapshot of the kind of activity generated by the changes in law.

Well, actually, it’s not quite that simple because the notifications reflect all sorts of transactions, many of which have nothing to do with the changes in the law. Nevertheless they do suggest some interesting trends.

For example, not a single newspaper reported a change in control during the nine months before the cross media laws. Since then fifteen newspapers have done so. These include the West Australian and its sister publication, the Kalgoolie Miner, which were targets for Kerry Stokes on the very day that the new laws were proclaimed.

Others include the twelve newspapers wrapped up in the merger of Fairfax and Rural Press, such as the The Canberra Times, The Bendigo Advertiser, The Advocate and The Examiner in Tasmania.

Before the cross media laws The West Australian and perhaps The Canberra Times were the only newspapers in the country that could claim to be independent metropolitan dailies. Although the West still has some semblance of independence, both have technically lost that distinction now.

The radio figures are confusing because on paper there was a great deal more activity in the period before the law changed than there has been afterwards. One hundred and forty seven radio stations reported changes in control before 4 April this year compared to just 46 afterwards. The figures are skewed by a bulk report by Macquarie Media Group in March, when it made what appears to be little more than an internal shuffling of holdings for its stable of 87 regional radio stations.

Television has been subject to a great deal more activity. Before the media changes there were 23 reports of changes in control of TV stations. Since the media laws there have been 75. Much of this has to do with the carve up by Fairfax and Macquarie Media of regional media and the fallout at Nine after the offloading by James Packer of 50% — then a further quarter share — of the Nine network.

Although the data does not show an avalanche of media acquisitions and takeovers in the wake of the media laws, it does reveal the horizontal and vertical integration of media companies like Macquarie and Fairfax which are spreading in all directions and reducing the diversity of media ownership in the process.