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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 12401

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (10:15 PM) —We already have a significant level of foreign ownership in various forms of media in this country, and I defy anyone to demonstrate that that has led to a lack of identification with Australian culture. At the end of the day, you have to sell your product. If you are alienated from your reading or viewing audience, you go broke. If you think that there need to be special arrangements—like the French exception to the EU, which has always been heroically championed by the French but is generally disparaged by the rest of the EU these days—then you can go about doing just that. That is what local content restrictions, in a sense, are aimed at. If there are other things you want to do, you apply them across the board. You apply them to all forms of media. You do not discriminate on the basis of birthplace. You do not say that, because an Australian happens to own that, somehow he is going to be in tune, and that, because a foreigner owns that, he will not be. If Rupert Murdoch were nominally an Australian but living in America, would that somehow make a difference? Would you then say, `We are worried about foreign residents as much as foreign nationals'? If an Australian goes to live in London for six months of the year, does that mean that somehow he has forfeited the right to own a newspaper or television station? It is complete nonsense.

If you want to protect so-called cultural values, you protect them across the board. You apply them to the media and to particular forms of media but you do not discriminate on the basis of ownership, because there is no evidence at all that a foreigner is going to commit commercial suicide by not catering to the marketplace. Do you think Clear Channel came to Australia to try to inject American values into Australian radio? It is here to make a quid and it has to cater to its market audience, and that is what it does. If there are restrictions you want to apply to radio, do that across the board, but do not somehow pretend that foreigners are much less responsive or susceptible. They are not and there is no evidence that they are.