The Australian government yesterday (Thursday) unveiled plans to overhaul laws governing media ownership.

At the centre of the reform are restrictions on foreign ownership of the nation’s media properties. Currently, overseas firms cannot own more than 15% of an Australian TV company or 25% of a newspaper group.

The proposed legislation will scrap laws on foreign media ownership, although it will leave in place more general regulations governing overseas investment.

Cross-media ownership laws will also be relaxed. At the moment, a newspaper, TV or radio company is forbidden from owning more than 15% of a rival group in the same city.

However, some of the (right-wing) government’s plans may face opposition in the Senate, which is controlled by the Labor Party and Australian Democrats, both thought to favor the easing of foreign media investment law while remaining hostile to reform of cross-media ownership rules.

The government wants the measures to be the subject of widespread debate before a Senate committee, according to communications minister Richard Alston.

“Current restrictions on foreign and cross-media ownership constrain Australia's media sector within outdated structures,” he continued, “while around the world, media businesses are being driven by the imperative of delivering readily adaptable content across multiple platforms.”

Some analysts believe that a change in the law could spark a wave of consolidation in Australia’s media sector. One possible takeover target is newspaper group John Fairfax Holdings, reportedly being eyed by other indigenous operators such as Kerry Packer’s Publishing & Broadcasting and foreign players like Pearson and Irish businessman Sir Tony O’Reilly.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff