Australian communications minister Helen Coonan has given the clearest indication yet that changes are afoot concerning the nation's media ownership regulations.

The relaxation of the laws, pencilled-in for next year, is expected to start a stampede of media companies, foreign and domestic, buying into markets previously closed to them.

In a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra, Coonan revealed that international media groups would be able to control Australian assets, after obtaining government permission to do so. Previously, overseas companies have been allowed to own only up to 15% of a TV network or 25% of a newspaper group.

Media companies will also be allowed to own TV, radio stations and newspapers in the same market. This could open the door, for example, to Rupert Murdoch's News International buying a TV network or Kerry Packer snapping up the John Fairfax Holdings newspaper group.

Says Coonan: "The long-term objective of media reform should be to move to an open and competitive market environment without artificial and arbitrary restrictions, which prevent Australian media groups from developing into globally competitive firms." [Has anyone told Rupert that?]

The planned changes would require each metropolitan city to have at least five large media companies and rural areas to have four to ensure diversity of opinion, Coonan stresses.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff