History students call it the “Great Man” theory — the tendency to simplify historical events down to the whims of the powerful. And the “Great Man” theory is pretty much all we’ve been getting from the media in its coverage of the James Packer-Lachlan Murdoch buy-in to the Ten Network (you can make that “Great Men and Women” theory for the coverage of Gina Rinehart’s acquisition). What is Packer’s agenda for Ten? Where does he want to take the network (in spite of his own rather poor track record in the business, which most business writers have been remiss in mentioning). What will be the relationship between Packer, Murdoch and the Gordon family?
What hasn’t been discussed at all is the impact on media diversity in Australia. Not merely is Lachlan Murdoch now in a position of control in relation to a television network and Packer and Murdoch now able to control both free-to-air and subscription television content, the deal has shone a light on the tendency of moguls to now operate not merely across more than one media, but across more than one outlet within the same media, despite ownership restrictions.
Australians are plainly concerned about growing media concentration. A recent Essential Research poll found that a quarter of voters didn’t believe James Packer should be permitted to buy into Ten while retaining his Foxtel shareholding, and 50% of voters didn’t believe News Ltd should be permitted to own the majority of Australian newspapers — a view held right across party lines. In the same poll commercial TV news services were trusted far less by voters than the ABC.
Crikey believes that the Packer-Murdoch deal raises serious concerns about how we regulate media ownership in Australia. In the face of a rapidly evolving media environment, it is time to revisit our media ownership laws. Today we begin the first of a series of articles on how and why we regulate for media diversity, and how we can do better.