An update on media regulation

Last week, a report in The Australian suggested that the Gillard government’s media reforms might be hitting a hurdle in cabinet, with Communications Minister Stephen Conroy continuing to push for greater government control:

The proposal most feared by media proprietors – a government-funded News Media Council watchdog – is off the agenda as ministers opt instead to toughen industry self-regulation of news reporting. Despite Julia Gillard’s anger at recent coverage of her past, the Prime Minister opened talks with media companies to reach a compromise on press regulations put forward by former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has pressed for reforms to act on a landmark Convergence Review, which warned in April that existing rules were out of step with the rise of Google and Facebook as powerful media players in their own right.

While Senator Conroy has called for a public interest test that would give an independent regulator more leeway to reject mergers, he appears to be struggling to persuade his cabinet colleagues to back the idea.

Sources familiar with the policy talks said the government could refer the public interest test to further review, given the lack of clarity about how the regime would work.

In today’s Australian Financial Review, a report also suggested that any regulation might be broken up and released towards the end of this year and into next year:

While some parts of the package may happen this year, other more contentious proposals may roll out over a number of months and may be subject to more public discussion if they are approved.

The so-called “two out of four” test would replace a range of existing media diversity rules, including the “two out of three” rule which says a person cannot control more than two out of three specified media platforms – commercial television, radio or an associated newspaper – in a commercial radio licence area.

Whatever the government has planned, we’ll be keeping a very close eye on things.


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