Government puts Media reform on the agenda for 2005

Media legislation reform is on the Howard Government’s policy agenda for its fourth term in office.

Outlining the new government’s agenda in the traditional opening of Parliament Address this week, the Governor General told assembled Members and Senators:

“The government maintains its commitment to reform Australia’s media ownership laws. New arrangements will provide enhanced
diversity and increased investment, enabling Australians to have greater access to high quality media services.

government is also committed to ensuring that its regulatory framework for communications and broadcasting remains responsive
to the challenges brought about by new technologies.”

When the government takes control of the Senate half way through 2005 it will be in a position to push its media legislation through if it wishes.

The Governor General’s brief words have given hope to the many media companies circling each other as they contemplate expanding their range of media assets if ‘cross media’ and ‘two-to-a-market’ restrictions are softened.

Also interested in the outcome of any changes to Media legislation are foreign investors who might be interested in lifting their stake in newspapers and tv companies.

The Radio Industry is the only media sector to currently have no foreign media ownership restrictions and already has a number of high profile foreign investors such as Clear Channel and DMG.

Opposition Leader Mark Latham, speaking on 2UE to Mike Carlton also discussed media reform:

CARLTON: What about media ownership? There’s talk of a big shake up there which could see say, Kerry Packer owing Fairfax and Rupert Murdoch with another television channel.

LATHAM: Well, we’ve already got the most concentrated media market in the world and we don’t want to go further down that path. I think diversity is good, I saw a survey just a few days ago that showed that while public confidence in politicians is not too flash, it’s even lower for the media –

CARLTON: Oh dear –

LATHAM: Shock horror. And I think one of the reasons is the concentration of ownership. People would like a bit more choice and we’re certainly not going to be serving the Australian people and media consumers by narrowing that choice. So, I don’t know what arrangements the Howard Government has got in place behind the scenes but Labor supports the cross-media ownership rules and the principles of diversity. We support those one hundred per cent, so no watering down there from our point of view.

CARLTON: But the truth is from July 1st you won’t have the numbers in the Senate will you? You can huff and puff all you like but there’s nothing you can do.

LATHAM: I can tell you how we vote and our attitude and the position we put forward as the alternative government and they’re principle positions that we think are in the national interest and we stand by those. Even on a big issue like sale of Telstra or the diversity of our media, these things have got to be done in the public interest.

I don’t think any Australians want to see a narrowing, a further narrowing so, we’ve just got one or two media owners in this country… We haven’t talked about choice, Howard is always talking about choice, well how about some choice in the media market?