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.