Are changes to cross-media laws really for the better?

Date: 24/09/2002

The Federal Government's efforts to change cross-media ownership laws may be coming too fast, too soon, according to a University of Western Sydney academic.

Dr Tim Dwyer from the School of Communication, Design and Media says the amended Bill, due to be re-introduced into the House of Representatives this week, may not be in the public's best interests.

The changes would allow media proprietors to buy into all three media in capital city markets, and two of the three media outlets in regional centres. The Bill also includes regulations to force owners to reveal their other media interests in radio, TV and newspaper news reports.

"The cross-media proposals in the Bill aren't the best alternative for the public, when compared with existing rules. While most people recognise that our consumption of media is changing, the fundamental structures haven't changed that dramatically yet.

"News and information delivered by free-to-air television, radio and newspapers are still the most popular sources, and that justifies the current cross-media framework," Dr Dwyer says.

"The Federal Government's proposed changes would simply further concentrate cross-media ownership, reducing the diversity of information to Australian audiences," he says.

Dr Dwyer says efforts to free-up foreign media ownership rules also present problems.

"Allowing a greater number of overseas players into the Australian market may be more appealing to the Howard Government, however, any changes should be the result of widespread consultation, and the implications carefully considered," he says.

"If, for example, an Australian media operation was taken over by a foreign company we could see the closure of overseas news bureaux, because the new foreign owners may be more inclined to use their own staff in those locations."

The amendments have won broad support amongst Coalition backbenchers, and the Howard Government only needs the votes of four of the 13 non-Labor senators for the Bill to be adopted.

"The cross-media ownership Bill is likely to go down to the wire, but the Federal Government should be considering whether concentrated media ownership will really benefit information diversity," Dr Dwyer says.

Media Enquiries:
Angela McIntyre
Senior Media Officer
Ph. 02-9678 7424
0419 244 595