Media changes reduce opinion in age of choice: expert
Planned changes to media laws could erode diversity of opinion and homogenise Australian television content, yet Australians will still have vastly more options than before thanks to new digital entrants, according to a cultural researcher at the University of Western Sydney.
In the face of increased competition from new media companies such as Netflix and Google, the Federal Government is considering changes to the current ownership restrictions to allow mergers between established television broadcasters, radio stations and newspapers.
"Historically, media reforms give something to all the major players, but not everything that they want," says the editor of Sport, Public Broadcasting, and Cultural Citizenship: Signal Lost? Professor David Rowe, from the UWS Institute for Culture and Society.
"The digital age is clearly coming into view in Australian television, and with digital multi-channelling, on-demand and streaming services television in Australia is more dynamic than ever before."
"There will be a lot of distracting sound and fury, but close attention must be paid to safeguarding the interests of citizen-viewers rather than appeasing the noisiest self-interested commercial interests."
Professor Rowe says leaked plans to abolish the "reach rule" would have some effect on regional and remote viewers, as commercial TV networks are currently prevented from reaching more than 75 per cent of Australian viewers.
"Changes to the 'reach rule' will mean a greater centralisation of the media in Australia, with a probable reduction of focused local content and production facilities – a trend that has been evident for decades," says Professor Rowe.
"The digitisation of media has led to claims that the reach rule is outmoded – but there is still concern that major broadcast organisations will cut costs and homogenise Australian television content through greater metropolitan domination, as has occurred with the ABC."
Professor Rowe says the same arguments apply to the 2 out of 3 rule, which prevents one organisation from owning more than two out of newspapers, commercial TV and radio licences in the same major market.
"But this a more contentious reform, because it could mean that a single media proprietor or organisation might seriously erode diversity of opinion in whole cities and regions, pushing a single political line and often in its own financial interest," says Professor Rowe.
"The highly partisan nature of the Murdoch media makes many observers nervous about the impact of the company campaigning across all media platforms in a highly integrated and intensive manner, not least during election campaigns."
Professor Rowe says premium sport such as Ashes cricket, the Olympics and the football finals look set to stay on free-to-air television, as moving these events to subscription television would be massively unpopular.
"Only about 1 in 3 households currently subscribes to pay television in Australia, and Foxtel knows that the most effective way of increasing subscriptions across the world is through exclusive rights to sport," says Professor Rowe.
"There was some proposed loosening of the anti-siphoning rules by the previous Labor government, but Foxtel (which is jointly owned by News Corp Australia and Telstra) would like the changes to go a lot further - indeed, to abandon what they call the 'anti-Foxtel list' altogether."
"None of the major political parties would dare to take that step, as television sport fans would take to the streets in big numbers- much as they did in Sydney in 2000 after the NRL, when under the control of News Corporation, tried to expel the South Sydney Rabbitohs."
16 March 2015
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