The Guardian April 19, 2000


Editorial:
More favours for the Packers and Murdochs

When the Howard Government wants backup for policies it has already 
decided to implement it sets up a Commission of Inquiry staffed by people 
it knows will come up with the desired answers. It then uses those answers 
to justify implementing the policies it had intended anyway. It is doing 
this with Telstra privatisation  setting up an obviously prejudiced 
committee of three, all of whom have indicated in one way or another their 
support for privatisation.

The Government has done the same with a Productivity Commission Inquiry 
into broadcasting. The Government wants to abolish the present cross-media 
ownership regulations and the limits on foreign ownership and these are 
among the most important recommendations of the recently tabled 
Productivity Commission report on Broadcasting.

Professor Richard Snape and Stuart Simson as the Associate Commissioner, 
signed the Inquiry report. Mr Simson has a wide range of interests in the 
media  John Fairfax Holdings, Cable and Wireless Optus, News Corporation, 
Telstra, the Macquarie Bank, Simson Media Pty Ltd and other commercial 
interests. He is obviously well placed to come up with recommendations 
fully reflecting the demands of the Murdochs and Packers.

There have been rapid technological changes and this is leading to new 
forms of media transmission  the Internet, datacasting, digital 
transmission using fibre optics, coaxial cables, narrowcasting, etc. That's 
the technical side.

On the financial side, the extremely complex inter-meshing of company 
connections is making a mockery of the weak laws that exist to prevent 
take-overs by foreign capital. Not only are the existing laws pathetically 
weak, neither Labor nor Liberal Governments have done a great deal to 
enforce them. Nothing has been done to limit Murdoch holdings in Australia 
even though he must be regarded as foreign capital.

Instead of looking for ways of seriously protecting Australia's national 
interests, the Productivity Commission's answer is to sweep away even the 
existing regulations and simply hand everything over to the "market". This, 
the Commission claims will open up competition. The reality is, and recent 
experience proves it for everyone to see, that so-called competition leads 
to mergers, take-overs and new levels of monopoly. It is a fact that the 
transnational corporations are getting bigger and fatter with every passing 
day.

The Commission recommends that "All restrictions on foreign investment, 
ownership and control should be repealed", that "The Australian content 
quota of 80 per cent for advertisements on all commercial TV stations 
should be removed immediately", that "All unreserved broadcasting spectrum 
should be made available for commercial broadcasting."

"If (note the "if") a government wishes to ensure community access to 
commercial digital broadcasting services in areas where they are not 
commercially viable ... this should be achieved through explicit subsidy 
arrangements ..." In other words unless the taxpayers are prepared to hand 
out subsidies to the private commercial providers, the country areas can go 
hang.

The media should be taken out of private commercial hands entirely and made 
available to progressive community organisations, cultural groups, migrant 
communities, trade unions and similar organisations while maintaining and 
substantially strengthening the national broadcasting service using all the 
technological means that are now available.

This is not going to happen until such time as an entirely different kind 
of government is established  one which gives first priority to the needs 
and interests of the Australian people.

In the meantime, the many organisations that already publish magazines and 
newspapers with relatively limited circulation need to substantially 
improve their content and coverage. There is a fairly widespread use of the 
Internet these days by a multitude of organisations and individuals. This 
needs to be maintained and improved as one of the widely used sources of 
information.

If the commercial magnates are to be put out of business, progressive 
publications have to win widespread community readership and support. That 
means better quality content and presentation and a much wider coverage to 
service the various interest groups at present catered for by the 
capitalist media. This is where real competition is necessary  between 
progressive Australia and the conservative dinosaurs who at present 
dominate.

It is to be hoped that the Commission's recommendations will not get past 
the ALP, Democrat and Greens Senate majority.
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