There they go again. Some of Australia’s biggest media companies are once again holding out their palms, Oliver Twist-like, wanting more for their fortunes from taxpayers.

In the past they’ve been given tax cuts, been allowed to take over each other, been allowed to narrow media diversity in this country. Now likes of the Murdoch clan, Perth-based media monopolist Kerry Stokes, and Nine (and its Liberal Party elder/chairman Peter Costello) want taxpayers to give up tax breaks for newspaper subscriptions. Nine and Stokes want yet more.

The Nine-owned Sydney Morning Herald published a story on Monday that stated:

Free-to-air television networks are planning to push the government to support tax deductions for all Australians subscribing to newspapers after the competition regulator removed the suggestion from its world-first inquiry.

Commercial television lobby group Free TV Australia is hoping to encourage the Federal Government to reconsider the proposal during the consultation period to try and influence the final decisions on regulating the US-based technology behemoths and supporting news organisations.

The disclosure was there. “Free TV Australia’s members include Nine Entertainment Co, Seven West Media, Network Ten and the regional broadcasters. Nine is the owner of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, while Seven owns news titles like The West Australian, which introduced a paywall and digital subscriptions in January.”

News Corp was not included in the SMH story because it is not a member of Free TV Australia (it would have been had Lachlan Murdoch succeeded in his abortive plan to snatch control of Ten). News Corp is of course the Australian subscription TV business with 65% of Foxtel and Fox Sports, but more importantly, 100% of Sky News (and around 2 million subscribers via the monthly fees paid to Foxtel) which would be the beneficiary of any government largesse.

News and Foxtel/Sky News (which is owned by the Australian News Channel and run by News even when it was part owned by Seven and Nine) have managed to enjoy benefits from the federal government at varying times when they were being handed out to Free TV Australia.

Take the licence fee reductions which handed over half a billion in benefits to Free TV Australia members, especially Nine, Seven and Ten. Foxtel managed to get $30 million from the Coalition government in 2017 with no justification at first. That later became a grant to help televise minority and women’s sports. Seeing Foxtel is now cutting back on minority sports, that money has simply been wasted.

All these media companies have strongly objected to government money being used to pay for the ABC and SBS and have sought to curtail the subsidies paid to the national broadcasters. All these companies have actively campaigned in support of the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments cutting funding for the ABC especially.

Now they want subsidies of their own — after receiving more than half a billion in government support from the gradual abolition of the licence fees (it was replaced with a $40 million a year “spectrum fee” which is peanuts compared with the licences fees which totalled more than $150 million a year at one stage). If these companies were making cars, producing canned food or building ships or making steel, they would oppose that and justify their stance with the neoliberal mantra “let the market decide”.

Disclosure: Crikey‘s publisher Private Media received a grant from the Australian Communications and Media Authority in December 2018. Crikey‘s independent journalism is primarily supported by subscriptions. 

Peter Fray

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