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Why Oz media laws suck

April 26, 2014

Barry Tucker

The Abbott & Co “Open for Business” federal government is planning to amend media laws to allow more cross-media ownership.

In the now all-to-common kerfuffle that follows such an announcement, there is a variety of policy positions in the public arena for you to choose from – the Abbott wriggle room in motion.

Various Australian governments have caved in to pressure from Rupert Murdoch to relax ownership rules over the past few decades and he now dominates the news and entertainment media (who can tell one from the other?) in Australia.

He sometimes supports the ALP camp, sometimes the Liberals. Observers say he picks winners and backs them, or dumps them, as he sees fit. Others say his only interest is a commercial one.

Political interference from such a powerful media magnate is not in this country’s best interest, in my opinion. If the situation was more balanced, a variety of opinions would be possible. At present this is not possible. This is not healthy.

During early 2013 the federal Labor government made a pig-headed attempt to introduce and debate several media Bills. Some would have simply required the news media (newspapers mainly) to adhere more closely to standards they had already agreed to.

Talk of an overseer to monitor this was greeted with screams of “censorship”, “Nazis”, “dictators” and the like. There already are Codes of Conduct, Codes of Ethics, agreed standards and overseers, or administrators, in the form of The Australian Press Council, the Free-to-Air TV organisation and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA, which the Institute of Public Affairs, IPA, wants abolished).

Talk of introducing a Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA) to oversee and rule for or against media ownership and consolidation was screamed about less, but was the real reason for all the other howling and screaming and carry on. Most of the noise, outrageous gutter journalism and derisory front page cartooning came from the Murdoch Press, News Corp, mainly The Daily Telegraph and The Courier Mail.

Now we have Abbott & Co’s “Open for Business” so-called government for all Australians in league with media baron Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and the IPA all hot to trot for Murdoch being allowed to own more stuff while the only potentially independent and non-commercial news, current affairs and comment operation in the nation (the ABC) is about to get its guts kicked in when Treasurer Joe Hockey releases his Murder in May Budget.

For this we have to thank a pack of idiots that calls itself the Australian Labor Party.

We also have former IPA spruiker Tim Wilson installed in the Human Rights Commission (good grief!) on a salary and perks that total somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 pa and Attorney-General George Brandis in his usual fatuous and pompous style struggling to explain why Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act should be rewritten to allow Andrew Bolt to question the racial identity of certain people and generally continue to stir up racial feelings because somehow or other it will be a good thing for freedom of speech – to hell with the race riots, we’ll deal with that when they happen. At least Brandis has now given me free rein to express my internal bigot by calling him a fat, bald-headed, pompous idiot and one of these days I will do so – but not today.

You should be rioting in the streets. Why aren’t you?

At least I took the time to write to the Labor Opposition’s media and communications spokesperson in the House of Reps, Mark Dreyfus QC. Apparently he’s still too busy dealing with correspondence from angry constituents to give me an answer.

I would write to my local Member, Whatsisname, but he’s a frocking Liberal. Fat chance.

Anyway, here’s the letter I wrote a month ago and the non-reply.

To mark.dreyfus.mp@aph.gov.au

23 Mar

Mark Dreyfus QC MP

Shadow Attorney-General

Shadow Minister for the Arts

March 23, 2014

Subject: Divestment Murdoch media holdings

Dear Mr Dreyfus

Like many other people, I am concerned about the extent of Rupert Murdoch’s media holdings in Australia. (Cf: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_Corporation)

It is possible that Abbott’s proposed changes to media laws will enable Murdoch to own even more Australian news outlets.

During the time of the Gillard government, fumbling of Labor’s media Bills prevented the installation of a Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA), who would have examined and allowed or disallowed further media consolidation.

Federal government legislation has allowed Murdoch’s Australian media empire to grow, to such an extent that he controls an estimated 67% of newspapers (in addition to magazines and part ownership of TV stations, AAP news agency, opinion polls and more).

Various governments have allowed this situation to develop. I do not believe Murdoch’s extensive ownership of Australian news media is in the public interest or in the best interest of the health of our democracy.

Of course, from time to time, Murdoch has supported the election of Labor governments and has been active in their defeat.

1: Is there any chance that the Federal Labor Opposition could introduce a Bill in the Senate (before July) to bring about the divestment of Murdoch’s media interests in Australia?

2: Is is possible for an individual to challenge existing media ownership laws in the High Court?

I look forward to your response.

Yours faithfully

Barry Tucker (@btckr)

[address and other contact details deleted]

I received this automated response and nothing since then.

Dreyfus, Mark (MP)

To Me

23 Mar

Thank you for contacting me via email.

While I try to respond to all letters, emails and messages as quickly as possible, I am currently receiving a particularly high volume of emails, many of which are form letters.  As the Federal Member for Isaacs, my priority is responding to constituents who live in Isaacs and require assistance. Issues relating to my shadow portfolio responsibilities of Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for the Arts will be responded to as soon as possible.

If you are a local resident, please ensure that you have included your mailing address and a contact phone number with your email.   If your matter is urgent and you live in Isaacs, please contact my office on (03) 9769 1955 for assistance.

For other matters, I appreciate your correspondence and the time you have taken to contact me.

Kind regards,

MARK DREYFUS QC MP

Federal Member for Isaacs

http://www.facebook.com/markdreyfus

Of course, the reality is that while such a Bill might pass the Senate, where the Opposition parties hold the balance of power at present (a new Senate sits from July 1, 2014), it would not pass the Lower House, where the Liberals and their National Party coalition partner have a large majority.

But, if the attempt was made, and if the slouches in the Press Gallery reported on it, a public debate may get under way. All of which is unlikely to happen. All of which is an unsatisfactory and, frankly, scary situation.

Farewell Australia’s Democracy.

Here’s a round-up of comments on the media laws announcement on Eleanor Hall’s ABC program The World Today; reporter Louise Yaxley. As you will see, typical of this government’s secrecy and obfuscation, no one really reveals the truth of what’s going to happen.

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