Proponents for the dismantling of media ownership laws rightly make the point that in age where everyone can publish across multiple platforms it is anachronistic to maintain regulations designed for a different age. But if we are going to deregulate, why not go the whole hog?
Discussion about Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s proposals to dismantle specific laws for specific media platforms overlook another consequence of new technology: While consumers are plugging into a global media market, current laws still are mainly designed to protect local media. And those tired and clueless oligopolies will only get more powerful with the inevitable consolidation that Turnbull’s changes will spark.
Take Foxtel, the monopoly pay television provider in Australia and the only really profitable part of the new News Corporation’s Australian business interests. It costs this consumer about $50 a month for Foxtel and I am forced to get TV on cable because I am in an area where aerial reception is poor. And all this for the basic service of free-to-airs, cooking shows and endless repeats of Cheers.
The alternative, as many Australians are now doing, is to bypass regional blocking by using virtual private networks or other avenues to access (and legitimately pay for) much richer US pay television services like Netflix or Hulu for about $8 a month.
And why wouldn’t you do that? The alternative is to have Foxtel gouge you senseless to watch Game of Thrones or House of Cards or for the local free-to-air networks to treat you like a complete sucker, changing schedules half way through a season or showing programs out of order.
Of course, News Corp and local TV networks – who sing the virtues of a free market when it suits them – are aghast at this prospect and instantly turn into protectionists of the worst order.
The irresistible conclusion is that Turnbull is dismantling media regulation, not to serve consumers, but to serve the interests of a mediocre media establishment in a market that already is one of the most concentrated in the developed world.
And just to confirm that suspicion, as Crikey’s Bernard Keane has observed, Turnbull’s ministerial colleagues Paul Fletcher and George Brandis are at the same time seeking to ramp up regulation of online media through futile attempts to stop file sharing and “cyber bullying”.
Anyone who has followed the history of Australian media regulation knows that laws are changed to suit the interests of the incumbents. No-one ever asks consumer what we actually want.
Which is why if you’re going to deregulate, deregulate completely and let us get on with it. The Australian media is buggered. We can see that. It’s a global market now, not an Australian market. Time to recognise that fact.