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Panpa Bulletin : November December 2006
32 | PANPA BULLETIN November--December 2006 Coonan s law: bungee Here's Australian Senator Helen Coonan's summation of her country's media consumption patterns in the 21st century, care of her address at the Country Press Association's Annual Conference in October: "...[The] constant evolution of technology means content can be deliv- ered in all manner of ways to all manner of devices anywhere you want it, anytime you want it... News and entertainment are always on, always available whether it is on the TV, over the phone or on the computer." What's missing from Senator Coonan's picture? Is the absence of any mention of print a strategic ploy conceived as a wake- up call to the press? More likely it was a natural omission in an era where the place of paper among media is diminishing. In the manner suggested by Fairfax's recent name change, newspaper publishers are becoming media companies. Newspapers have all gone to bloggery in an exciting new world of interactive multimedia. Newspaper publishers, like the owners of all traditional media, are working overtime to stake their place in a rapidly changing media landscape. The good news: if Senator Coonan has anything to do with it, the new media bills tabled in September -- but yet possibly half a year away from being passed -- will make it easier rather than harder to do that. The Senator summed up the logic behind the new laws thus: the existing laws, now two decades old, "...operate on the increas- ingly outdated premise of containing the traditional platforms of print, commercial free-to-air TV and commercial radio, within a defined geographical licence area." New media, she says, render such princi- ples obsolete. With the Internet's tran- scendence of geographical containment, it hardly seems logical or fair to continue shackling conventional media in the face of such "unregulated and unfettered" competition. Media in this country has long been oligopolistic by nature, dominated by a co- terie of families -- Murdoch, Fairfax, Packer, and Stokes to name the most prominent -- presiding over substantial print and electronic empires. But they've long had their cross-media market share ambitions thwarted by tight regulations preventing them from sewing up the game across print, radio and television in the same city or region. Foreign investors, too, have been stymied by a comparatively low ceiling on offshore shareholding levels. Not for much longer if the Howard government has its way. And that's highly likely, given the government's hold on both houses of parliament and the tightness of its voting pack. There was some disquiet on the rural-based National Party side of the coalition, over the likelihood that the original cross-media free-for-all the Liberals wanted would result in monopo- listic tie-ups at the expense of local content levels in the bush. Now that Howard and Coonan have made substantial concessions to ensure the support of Nationals like Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash and Paul Neville, it's a safe bet the bill will pass, triggering a COVER STORY David Mariuz/Fairfax Photos