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A public interest test for significant media transactions Current media diversity rules focus only on media platforms associated with broadcasting licence areas. A public interest test should be developed to ensure that diversity considerations are taken into account where Content Service Enterprises with significant influence at a national level are involved in mergers or acquisitions.

Removal of regulation

Cartoon by David Rowe

The new rules provide a comprehensive framework for diversity regulation. With the introduction of these rules, it is recommended that the following regulation be removed: • 75 per cent audience reach rule: which prevents control of commercial television licences whose combined licence area populations exceed 75 per cent of the population of Australia • 2 out of 3 rule: which prevents control of any more than two out of: 1) a commercial radio broadcasting licence 2) a commercial television broadcasting licence 3) a newspaper associated with the commercial radio broadcasting licence area • 2 to a market rule: which prevents control of more than two commercial radio broadcasting licences in the same licence area • 1 to a market rule: which prevents control of more than one commercial television licence in the same licence area.

Mogul with a megaphone In his 1979 book, Wake Up Australia, mining magnate Lang Hancock wrote that the power of governments “could be broken by obtaining control of the media and then educating the public”.89 His daughter, Gina Rinehart, appears to have taken him at his word. Having been at the forefront of the successful campaign to wreck the Rudd government’s plans for a mining rent resources tax, Rinehart has built up a powerful portfolio of media shareholdings. She has a significant voice in the affairs of Network Ten, where her 10 per cent of shares has given her a board seat, and a 13 per cent shareholding in Fairfax, where she covets a board seat. It has been speculated that Rinehart’s influence at Network Ten extended as far as securing the appointment of Andrew Bolt, an outspoken ideologue and climate change sceptic, to run his own talkshow. There is a great deal of concern at the possibility of Rinehart extending her holding in Fairfax Media and seeking to have a greater influence in the day-to-day affairs of the company’s newspapers. Rinehart launched court action in March 2012 to try to force The West Australian newspaper and its senior journalist Steve Pennells to reveal confidential sources behind stories embarrassing to her.90 This must call into question her commitment to free speech and the public’s right to know. The Alliance believes that diversity of media ownership and a plurality of voices is an essential guarantor of democracy in Australia. We are concerned that Australia has one of the highest concentrations of media ownership in the world, a situation that appears to be getting no better despite the rise of digital media. As part of its convergence review, the government must explore ways in which it can encourage the entry into the market of new and independent voices.

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2012 Press Freedom Report  

The Annual Media Alliance summary of press freedom issues in Australia