The Guardian March 27, 2002


Media ownership rules to go

by Peter Mac

The Howard Government is removing the final hurdles to enable foreign 
interests to assume control of Australia's commercial media.

The Government's new legislation would allow companies to apply for 
exemption from current cross-media ownership restrictions, and would allow 
one person or organisation to own both television and newspapers in the 
same city.

It also abolishes restrictions on foreign ownership of the media. It opens 
the way for Australia's commercial media to have an extremely restricted 
content, with an editorial policy dictated by a few foreign monopolists.

At the moment the owners of a free-to-air television channel cannot own 
newspapers in the same city. The new law would replace this with a 
pathetically weak requirement that each media outlet have a separate news 
organisation, as well as a separate editorial policy.

The Government has experienced widespread criticism of these initiatives, 
including some from within the ranks of the Coalition itself. National 
Party members, in particular, are said to be extremely worried about the 
influence of foreign ownership on local and regional newspapers. Both the 
ALP and the Democrats have expressed their opposition to the legislation in 
its present form.

The Minister for Communications, Senator Alston, has defended the new laws, 
stating that media commpanies "had to have freedom and flexibility to 
expand". Nevertheless, as a sop to its critics, the Government proposes to 
implement "control" measures for broadcastimg, to be implemented by the 
Australian Broadcasting Tribunal.

What a terrifying prospect for the commercial media! The Tribunal has in 
the past come in for scathing criticism, for example from the ABC's 
MediaWatch program, for its failure to take appropriate action, or 
any action at all, over flagrant breaches of the voluntary code of conduct 
for commercial television broadcasting.

The move to abolish foreign ownership rules has been described as necessary 
to "improve access to investment money" and to "increase the pool of media 
players".

The reality is that if the legislation is passed, the number of media 
players will almost certainly shrink, and the new "investment money" will 
come predominantly from foreign sources.

The government's new legislation will bolster the role of the media 
monopoly barons in dominating the Australian media. Australia already has 
one of the most concentrated media ownerships in the world.

Back to index page