Oz Media Reforms Officially Unwrapped

17 July 2006

Australia's communications minister Helen Coonan has finally unveiled her much-anticipated media reforms to much gnashing of teeth from Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation empire.

The nation's biggest media group, whose television interests are of the subscription variety, claims the relaxation of regulations is "an even more aggressive protection racket" for its free-to-air TV rivals.

But Coonan is unruffled and prepared for the backlash, saying: "I'm quite used to having fights on my hands." Her proposals have a long way to go until they become law and progress has been slowed by objections from influential media owners [WAMN: 21-Jun-06].

The plan includes scrapping the cross- and foreign-media ownership restrictions from next year and replacing them with a diversity test, introducing multichannelling on the free-to-air networks and starting the switchover from analog to digital in 2010.

Some government members have expressed doubts over the provision in the package for a "multiplicity of voices" in regional media, concerns that Coonan believes her proposals address fully.

NewsCorp, meanwhile, is outraged by the decision not to issue an additional commercial TV licence while at the same time allowing the free-to-air networks to add extra channels.

Fumed a company spokesman: "Any benefit to consumers from the extra free TV channels will be completely illusory because only the incumbent broadcasters are allowed to own them."

However, other media bosses welcomed the proposals. Says John Fairfax chairman Ron Walker: "The media industry is the last major industry in Australia to be reformed, and these changes bring the sector into the 21st century."

While the Ten Network said the changes would "increase the efficiency, competitiveness, flexibility and diversity of Australia's media sector while maintaining protections on local content and diversity of opinion".

Data sourced from Sydney Morning Herald; additional content by WARC staff