Tim Longhurst's Blog

Australia’s rules to prevent idea monopolies – cross media ownership laws

July 22nd, 2005 · 1 Comment

aph.gif“With our newspapers we have indeed supported Bush’s foreign policy. And we remain committed that way.”
Rupert Murdoch, October 2004
All 175 of his newspapers supported the Iraq invasion.

The media may not tell us what to think, but media organizations do influence what we think about. They do this by adjudicating what prominence various issues receive and how the issues are addressed. This ‘agenda setting’ power is one of the reasons Australia has for many years had cross media ownership laws. If all media organisations have their biases, the thinking goes, then we’d better ensure a wide variety of biases. It would be a threat to a healthy democracy if one company controlled the majority of what people read, see and hear.

Australia’s cross media ownership laws boil down to this: for each market (for example, Sydney) a media company must choose whether they want to own a TV station, a newspaper or a radio station. They can have their pick from one of the three, but that’s it.

In Sydney, Kerry Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (PBL) owns the Nine Network, so it can’t currently own any Sydney newspapers or radio stations. Similarly, Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited owns Sydney’s Daily Telegraph Newspaper; it is therefore restricted from owning a Sydney radio or television station.

It’s worth noting that cross-media ownership laws are not the strongest laws around. For one, they do not attempt to regulate magazine ownership (both Murdoch and Packer have large magazine stables), and significantly, the laws have not been updated since 1992, which means they do not address media that has developed in Australia since that date, including subscription television (pay TV) and the Internet. So although News Limited can’t own a Sydney television station, it can (and does) own a stake in Australia’s largest pay TV company, Foxtel, as well as several pay TV channels, including Fox News. PBL also has a stake in Foxtel and a significant interest in one of Australia’s most accessed online portals, NineMSN.

PBL already controls a large amount of what Australians read, see and hear. It is possible to spend an entire day with much of the information you access coming from the Packer-controlled organisation. Watching the Today show, checking Hotmail, reading the Bulletin, buying concert tickets through Ticketek and watching Sixty Minutes all involve receiving information through the PBL network. Because of cross-media ownership restrictions, the radio and newspapers you access offer Australians an oasis from the PBL filter.

Since coming to government in 1996, Australia’s conservative coalition have attempted to water-down cross media ownership laws, without success: they couldn’t convince the senate of the merit of its proposed changes. In late 2004 the government took control of the senate and is now indicating the changes to media ownership laws it has advocated will be achieved – possibly before the end of 2005.

For more information:

Media Ownership Regulation in Australia – Australian Paliamentary Library (non-partisan)

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Category: Media Mayhem

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