Reaction to the Senate Committee Report

Commenting on the report The Communications Law Centre “commended” the Senate Committee on its findings that media diversity in regional areas was under threat, but considered that similar concerns also applied to major metropolitan areas.

Director of the Communications Law Centre, Dr Derek Wilding, said: “It is encouraging to see that all members of the Committee have recognised at least some flaws in the Bill. The inevitable conclusion on the effectiveness of the Bill is expressed by the joint report of the ALP and Democrat Senators: that there is no public benefit in the Bill and that only justification apparent for the changes proposed in this Bill were to serve the commercial interests of the major media companies who would have everything to gain under the new rules.”

Even more significant, according to the CLC, is the recognition by the Coalition majority that ownership does matter. Wilding said, “The proposal for two-out-of-three media forms in regional areas is itself flawed, since in many country areas there is no regional daily newspaper. The only local newspapers are non-dailies, and even the cross-media rules don’t apply to them. Already, there is substantial cross-media ownership of country press and regional radio. The two-out-of-three proposal would effectively mean that these companies can add television to their list of holdings. As a result, it would fail to protect consumers in many country areas… Nevertheless, the proposal is an important acknowledgment by the Coalition Senators that ownership is the issue for ensuring diversity.”

The CLC commended the dissenting ALP and Democrat Senators “for their conclusion that the editorial separation scheme would fail as a public interest test, and that the Bill would operate as a de facto means of repealing the cross-media rules.”

On the other hand News Limited, in an editorial in The Australian, was most uncomplimentary about the dissenters in a colourful editorial: “The Howard Government’s unenthusiastic attempt to unscramble Australia’s spaghetti-and-meatballs media regulation has dribbled down its shirt… Labor and the Democrats dissenting report… was remarkable in its illogicality… [they] are never going to get real about media law reform.”