Why media reforms must go through

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THE collapsing fortunes of the Ten Network only serve to underline the need for Federal Parliament to support the Government’s media reform package.

Make no mistake, this is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end, when it comes to job losses and lost economic viability in the mainstream media.

No media organisation is immune from cost savings, with management consultants as prominent as journalists in the corridors of media entities.

The problems the sector faces aren’t just about antiquated media laws, which restrict businesses diversifying to improve their viability. But laws drafted in the 1990s, before the internet existed, certainly don’t help.

Today’s media landscape, not to mention profitability, looks nothing like it did when Paul Keating sought to limit the power of a few media moguls.

It’s shameful that Labor and the Greens are blocking a reform package that has done something we’ve never seen before — brought the media together, offering unanimous support for Communications Minister Mitch Fifield’s policy changes.

Stop and consider just how unprecedented that is. Unanimity in the media in support of the package has only come about because of how comprehensive the package is and how many elements it brings together.

Removal of the two-out-of-three rule, the 75 per cent reach rule, changes to anti-siphoning laws and a host of other adjustments give all parties something, ensuring that owners across the mainstream media don’t feel they are being disadvantaged by regulatory changes.

Yet Labor wants to unpick the package and only pass parts of it into law. What would that do? It would instantly break up the unanimous support the media sector is offering.

Self- interest would re-engage fights over what should be included and excluded from a reform package.

Reform would again get thrown in the too-hard basket and the sector would continue to drift towards failure.

I used to be a strong supporter of limits, such as the reach rule and two out of three. But, these days, the internet means that overseas organisations can push into the Australian market, unrestrained by such limitations.

Often these organisations pay little or no tax locally, either. They have pushed advertising dollars down.

The mainstream media is simply not as powerful as it once was, when limits on its reach were necessary. These days, media organisations that can’t diversify their businesses, owning assets that can cross-promote and cross-subsidise one another, won’t survive.

It’s no coincidence that the two moguls most likely to save Ten, Bruce Gordon and Lachlan Murdoch, need media laws changed to be able to do so.

Ten’s best chance of survival in the longer term is to link up with the media interests each man already has to allow crossover to improve economic viability.

The rivers of gold in media ownership just aren’t prevalent any more. And concerns about a lack of diversity are a joke, given the diversity the internet offers.

While fewer moguls are likely to own more mainstream media assets with changes to the laws in Australia, the alternative is fewer mainstream media outlets operating.

We need to encourage anyone who wants to own media assets into investing in such. If Labor and the Greens want to play politics with this reform, let’s hope the crossbench can be convinced to support the package.

Peter van Onselen is The Sunday Times political analyst and a professor at UWA.



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