Can the Australian government’s proposed new media laws save troubled newspapers and other legacy media outlets? Or is that the wrong question to be asking?
It’s now two weeks since the government confirmed plans to significantly change media ownership laws, which could prompt a whole swag of mergers and acquisitions as old-school news organisations battle to stay afloat in the digital age.
But in that fortnight, there’s been no definitive answer to the question “will it save troubled media groups?”
There’s little doubt that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp will benefit – and there could be some short-term good news for Fairfax. But is it all ‘too little, too late’? And should we even care that the ‘dinosaurs’ of media are apparently dying?
The current laws were introduced in the 1980s to protect diversity – and they mean that you can’t own TV, radio and newspaper assets in the same city.
TV networks and the beleaguered Fairfax have been calling for the end to the rules, arguing they do not account for digital media platforms such as Google – which is rapidly transforming from just a search engine into a dominant online media titan.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield calls the changes “the most significant media reform in a generation”, but critics fear the concentration of media power into the hands of Rupert Murdoch and other media moguls.
Changes designed to bolster regional content have been welcomed by the Nationals, but Labor’s critical of some of the proposals fearing they will give Mr Murdoch even more power – and his newspapers have been constant critics of the left side of politics.
But the plans won’t be entirely welcomed by Mr Murdoch either – he wanted the so-called ‘anti siphoning’ laws watered down or scrapped.
Those laws prevent his FoxSports and Foxtel channels from grabbing key sports events .. (many events have to be available for Free-to-Air TV first) and its understood that Mr Murdoch’s not happy that no changes are being made.
According to Matthew Knott from Fairfax, News Corp Australia lobbyists have told politicians privately the company will not support “two-out-of-three” without changes to anti-siphoning.
If that’s true then this could turn ugly real fast – News Corp is not afraid to abandon objectivity and go after anyone it perceives to be an enemy.
And the Government’s also likely to face resistance from independents and the Greens in the Senate – the Greens policy’s pretty clear on the issue, saying “Freedom of the press and effective, affordable and accessible media and communications systems are integral to the functioning of a successful democratic society, so all Australians should be able to access a variety of affordable telecommunications .. Adding that “media diversity in content and format is a right of all Australians.”
But back to the question of whether the changes can held salvage legacy media …
CCZ Media Analyst ROGER COLMAN’s told the AFP newsagency that the changes were unlikely to improve the chances of publishers — particularly newspapers struggling with declining circulation and advertising — staying viable
“It’s not going to do anything there that’s going to enable the costs to fall at such a rate they can keep the businesses going,” Mr Colman told AFP.
Fairfax Media recently announced another restructure as print advertising and circulation declined further, while News Corp also said in February it was looking to cut costs and share services at its Australian and British newspapers.
I am not one of those people eagerly awaiting the death of the mainstream media… After all, I made my living for four decades in that industry.
But I also wonder sometimes if the industry has a future – or more accurately, what shape that future will take.
Certainly, the old advertiser-supported model isn’t looking healthy, and journalism is an expensive business
I’ve always thought that the cost was worth paying – that a healthy democracy needed an informed electorate.
But I am not sure that we will see the existing media able to pay for that for too much longer.
Unless, of course, a new funding model is found.
And I am not sure I can think of one that will work to save the media, as we know it.
We live in interesting times.