Online growth makes media rules pointless, says News Read

Posted on November 29, 2011

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THE restriction on one owner controlling too many TV networks, radio stations and city newspapers is no longer needed to protect diversity in the digital age, according to Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd, which wants the media ownership rules abolished.

It told the government’s convergence review of media regulation that the ownership rules had passed their use-by date, given the abundance of alternative sources of news now provided online – and by pay TV and national newspapers which are ignored by cross-media rules.

The internet made it easy to start websites and the choice for internet audiences was now ”essentially limitless”, it said, arguing the market had delivered a depth of diversity that regulation could never have achieved.

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In their place, it says, the general prohibition on mergers that substantially lessen competition should govern the media, as it did in most other industries.

News Ltd publishes The Australian and the dominant tabloid and Sunday newspapers in each of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, owns a quarter of Foxtel and half of Fox Sports.

Although it says only 26 per cent of Australians read its newspapers, it has been the subject of political criticism from the Greens and some Labor ministers as being too powerful and is widely seen as the target of the separate print media inquiry.

Its own review of three years of editorial spending to ensure all costs paid were for legitimate purposes has been completed after it was sparked in July by the News of the World phone hacking scandal. A News Ltd spokesman said the public report was likely to be released next week.

The group criticised the review’s focus on media ”influence”, saying with so many news sources now available, such a concept was misleading, difficult to measure and irrelevant.

”Influence is not a function of audience size or popularity,” it said. ”It is a function of the degree to which an audience is readily able to access other sources of information.”

It said the review failed to recognise either the ”waning of newspaper influence”, given the rise of sources online, or the ability of a large media group to itself offer a diversity of views through its various publications.

”News Ltd newspapers in every major market of Australia provide commentary and opinion from a wide array of sources,” it said, and added that they regularly took different views on the same issue.

It noted The Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Herald Sun backed the return of the Gillard government in last year’s election, but The Daily Telegraph and The Australian endorsed the opposition.

Diversity was not about whether people actually read, watched or listened to a range of media, ”it is whether they can”.

News Ltd rejected any need for a public interest test for media mergers, saying the uncertainty of such a test meant it could be ”corrupted by highly political decision making”. It also dismissed the need to license newspapers or websites as they did not use scarce resources like the broadcasting spectrum.

”To licence print or online media would be the equivalent of licensing speakers standing on a soapbox in a town square,” it said.

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