The author has been described by News Ltd as an "iconoclast", "Svengali", a pollie's "economist muse", and "pungently accurate". Fairfax says he is a "Renaissance man" and "one of Australia’s most respected analysts." Stephen Koukoulas concludes that he is "85% right", and "would make a great Opposition leader." Terry McCrann claims the author thinks "‘nuance’ is a trendy village in the south of France", but can be "scintillating" when he thinks "clearly". The ACTU reckons he’s "an enigma wrapped in a Bloomberg terminal, wrapped in some apparently well-honed abs."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why call for a "public interest test" on private media owners?

This seems like an awfully tricky concept to implement in practice given the many companies that operate across our diverse media landscape. It could easily put the most visible entities, such as Fairfax and News, at a distinct competitive disadvantage as it would likely become even more difficult for them to source shareholder capital when they are being constrained by amorphous "public [as opposed to private] interest tests." So it is important that we try to understand what is motivating politicians to advocate this change to the laws that currently govern the conduct of media businesses in this country. 

Based on The Australian's reports today, the chief anxiety appears to be the risk that media owners will use their businesses to push written and verbal arguments that conflict with the policies of the government of the day. Isn't that otherwise known as popular debate in a free democracy? There is, after all, no shortage of government-controlled "independent" media via the ABC and the SBS. Put differently, what is to stop Gina Rinehart starting her own private media empire from scratch funded with billions of dollars (ie, more than the ABC's annual budget or the current market capitalisation of Fairfax)? Rupert Murdoch has already done it, and she would have every democratic right to do so too. For the umpteenth time, that is why I believe so strongly that Australia needs well-financed, independent public broadcasters like the ABC and the SBS. Here's what The Oz says today:

Labor whip Joel Fitzgibbon cited rapid shifts in the media industry to call for stronger protection on personal privacy, while NSW MP John Murphy demanded reforms to curb media proprietors. Speaking after raising his concerns in parliament and caucus, Mr Fitzgibbon took aim at Mrs Rinehart for seeking to use media power against Labor and ignoring the charter of editorial independence at Fairfax. "I'm increasingly concerned that her key objective is to use Fairfax as a tool in her fight with the government," Mr Fitzgibbon told The Australian. "Given she's refusing to sign the charter, it's hard to come to any conclusion other than that her attempt to control Fairfax is about tearing down a government that is pursuing policies she disagrees with."