Over the past two decades the Australian government has undertaken a task of economic liberalisation through a process of deregulation and privatisation. Deregulation of the media industry is now on the agenda. On the 13 July 2006 Senator Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts announced a government framework for progressive deregulation of the media industry (Coonan 2006a). Contained within the deregulation framework is a proposal to relax the current media ownership regulation (Coonan 2006a). This paper will briefly outline the current media regulations and discuss the reasons for such regulation. This will be followed by an analysis of the different arguments for and against deregulation. Arguments for deregulation include economic arguments such as “free market theory” and profit maximization. Arguments against deregulation are societal based arguments such as the potential of undue power and influence of media owners, and reduction in diversity of views and information. From this analysis it will then be argued that the media ownership regulations should not be relaxed. This argument will be made on the basis that there is no evidence that deregulation will not be detrimental to society and reversal will be difficult.
Media ownership and concentration has been an important policy issue for many governments around the world. This is due to the special role that media plays politically, socially and culturally (Doyle 2000, p. 1, Horwitz 2005, p. 181). The current regulations relating to cross-media ownership in Australia as laid out in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 stipulates that a company or a company director can only control a license for one form of media (television, radio or newspaper) in any given license area (Commonwealth Consolidated Acts n.d). An example of this may be if a company has a television license in a certain area, they would not be entitled to obtain a radio or newspaper license within that same license area. These regulations were established in an attempt to discourage concentration and support competition in the media industry. This in turn was an attempt to ensure that democracy could properly function and that society at large can have access to a range of relevant, fairly presented views and information (Jackson, 2006, The Australian Communications and Media Authority n.d).
It has been widely accepted that for a democracy to function there must be diverse and free exchange of information, ideas and viewpoints (Champlin & Knoedler 2006, p. 136, Horwitz 2005, p.182, Copps 2003, p. 475, McChesney 2003, p.126, Chadwick 1998, p.155). Many countries around the world have shared the view that regulations should be implemented to control the ownership and concentration of the media in order to maintain the diverse flow of information and ideas (Doyle 2000, p. 1, Horwitz 2005, p. 181). This view is changing. Due to agendas of economic liberalisation, technological advances, commercialisation and pressure from growing media companies, governments have started to deregulate the industry (McChesney 2003, p.125, Moog & Sluyter-Beltrao 2001, p. Doyle 2000 p. 1). However, there appears to be few studies that explore the societal impact of concentration of the media industry. Will society benefit from greater concentration of the media industry?
Senator Coonan (2006b) argues that with the large amount of media sources available to the public, particularly the internet, there will continue to be a diverse variety of news and information from which the public can draw. However figures show that, in Australia, television, radio and newspaper remain the most common source of news and current affairs; only 11% of people use the internet and 10% use cable television as their source of news and current affairs. Moreover, many internet and cable television news services are owned by traditional media owners...