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Cabinet agrees to change media laws; Nationals Senator comments on proposed media reforms.

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Wednesday 12 July 2006

Cabinet agrees to change media laws; Nationals Senator comments on proposed media reforms


MARK COLVIN: At first glance, the days of the "princes of print" and the "queens of screen", appear to be numbered. An end to the cross-media laws could soon be here. 


It's understood that Federal Cabinet yesterday agreed to the Communication Minister's plan for media reform, despite bitter opposition from Rupert Murdoch, and they'll unveil the package later this week. 


But it may not be that easy. One commentator and a key senator warn that the reforms are not a done deal. 


Senator Helen Coonan's package still has to get through the Senate, and Barnaby Joyce, with a few words in passing about the Coalition's leadership woes, says he isn't ready to pass the plan. 


David Mark reports. 


DAVID MARK: Senator Helen Coonan's proposed media reforms spell out the largest change in Australia's media landscape, since the Labor government last changed the laws in 1987. 


Senator Coonan's plan would open up digital broadcasting and multi-channelling. It's a scenario, which excites Mark Day, a media columnist with the Australian newspaper. 


MARK DAY: What the transition to digital allows is a land of media plenty. 


With digital, where you had one analogue signal, you can have five television signals. 

There will be more, more, more and more because that's what the digital world is.  


DAVID MARK: Senator Coonan's package also lays out more controversial changes, such as abolishing restrictions on foreign and cross media ownership, while protecting the existing free to air television broadcasters, and it's these changes which have raised the ire of, among others, Rupert Murdoch's News Limited. 


But Harold Mitchell, the Chairman of the Mitchell Partners, Australia's largest media buyer, is in no doubt about the future of the reforms. 


HAROLD MITCHELL: This is a strong Government, been in office a long time, wants to make a change, and the change is a good change to make and the fact that some of the media owners disagree, I don't think concern the Government.  


In fact, it hasn't suited everybody. There's some little part in there that some of the owners didn't want, but overall it is good for Australia. It is good for diversity of media ownership and it will bring us very much into the modern world.  


DAVID MARK: Mr Mitchell, you've got good contacts with the Government. What have they been telling you about the package? Is it going to go ahead? 


HAROLD MITCHELL: I believe that the package will definitely go ahead. I don't think the Minister would have made it as public as this, or the Government generally, if it was going to be watered down. 


I think this is a goer. 


DAVID MARK: Mark Day isn't so sure. 


MARK DAY: A form of them will pass, that's pretty certain, but the big issues on the media reform, rather than digital transition elements, there are still big question marks over it.  


The role of the Nationals, and the role of the Senate, because while the Government's got the numbers on a good day in the Senate, not all the Nationals are said to be very happy about the, all the elements of the media proposal. 


If it looks as if the thing, the package is going to be severely emasculated or dramatically changed or rejected, then I don't think the Prime Minister is going to be losing his political capital over an issue which is, at best, a third order issue for consumers, you know.  


DAVID MARK: Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce is one National who isn't ready to rubber stamp the reforms, in particular that aspect of the plan which would allow a minimum of four media owners in regional areas. 


BARNABY JOYCE: I continually stick by the principle that when a piece of legislation gets to the Senate, the Senate has the right to review and amend and make its decision there and I certainly won't be pre-empting any decision until it gets there.  


What we want to see is, you know, a separation obviously between radio, television and newspapers. We don't want them all to be owned by the one media outlet, if there's not an alternate view out there, and that is an issue that the National Party have brought up... 


DAVID MARK: So you wouldn't want to see any forms of cross-media ownership? 


BARNABY JOYCE: Well you wouldn't want to see, for instance a town like Tamworth, or a town like Toowoomba, where the one media outlet owns both the newspaper, the radio and the television station, because that means that there's a total control of a view, or a perceived control of a view being held by one outlet.  


DAVID MARK: So would the plan, as it stands, get through the Senate? 


BARNABY JOYCE: Well, I can only speak on behalf of myself and I would say that if, you know, if you had to vote for it today, hopefully it wouldn't go through on the basis that no one understands it properly. 


DAVID MARK: Well, you're a key player. What would have to change to get your vote? 


BARNABY JOYCE: For me to be completely across the piece of legislation. You know, I'm only just starting to read over some of the commentary of it at the moment, and you know I wouldn't expect to be completely across it for quite a period of time at the moment.  


I'm still trying to work out, you know, who's running the country at the moment, so I'll be worrying about media reforms in due course.  


DAVID MARK: Senator Joyce, who is running the country at the moment? 


BARNABY JOYCE: The Prime Minister, the last time I saw the news, so I'm working on the premise that's the way we'll be going forward and if the Liberal Party decide to, they want to make a change, well you know, we'll deal with that issue but I'm working on the premise that John Winston Howard's running the show and we'll go forward from there.  


MARK COLVIN: Queensland National Party Senator Barnaby Joyce ending David Mark's report.