Sunday, July 29, 2012


Imagine there is an old colonial town, with a massive bucket of gold in the town square.

The bucket of gold belongs to the entire town.

Bizarrely, however, the bucket of gold is left open and unsecured.

Now, there is a sheriff in this town.

Rather than lock up the gold, the sheriff in town is responsible for tracking down anybody who steals it.

How well do you think this system would work? How long would the gold last?

Or, put another way, how well did 'voluntary regulation' of financial companies work in the lead up to the GFC?

Our media landscape, responsible for bringing us news and entertainment (yes, I think of them separately) is our bucket of gold.

Currently, we have a lock on our bucket of gold: the laws that regulate our media and media ownership.

With the laws regulating our media, no large ambitious media company...cough...Fox...cough...Murdoch...can own more than two of the three major media mediums: TV, Radio or Newspapers.

Times are changing, however. The internet, that universal gamechanger, has made us start to rethink whether we need a lock on our bucket of gold.

Right now, the Australian Government is mulling over The Convergence Review, a review of the laws that govern media provision in this country.

If you haven't heard of it, you should really be paying more attention. The proposed changes will affect us for years to come.

There are many things to come out of the Convergence Review, but the most interesting is the idea to abolish media ownership laws and replace them with a "public interest test" decided by the Government.

So now, if these changes are accepted, there will no longer be a lock on our bucket of gold, but instead the Government will decide if stealing the gold is a good thing or not.

Why dilute the laws that regulate our media and media ownership?

The Convergence Review argues that, with the internet turning everyone into their own newspaper (blogs) or TV Stations (YouTube), limiting media ownership is pointless. 

I think this conclusion overlooks one MAJOR point.

The conclusion that media ownership is pointless works in a world where there isn't already entrenched powerful media barons. Sure, in a world without Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch, the only thing that matters is how big a media company becomes. 

But Packer and Murdoch have existed. 

And they have created companies with huge power bases and almost unlimited media resources. 

And their companies have not shied away from using this power to influence how the news is presented.

Maybe the idea of a free press is dead, but do we really have to help bury it too?

At least the Convergence Review got one thing right, recommending to keep content quotas for Australian programs.

Content quotas force broadcasters to show a certain percentage of Australian content. This is because, despite Australian content regularly rating in the top 20 television programs, Australian programs cost a lot to produce. 

American TV shows, by comparison are relatively cheap for broadcaster to buy and show in Australia. Approximately, it costs three times as much to make Australian content as it does to buy it cheap from overseas.

Without a content quota, broadcasters would just programme endless cheap American sitcoms instead of making Australian shows.

Luckily they saw some sense.

So, did you know all of the above?

My apologies if you did.

But I doubt it.

The more people I talk to, the more I realise the majority are not paying attention. 

But you should care. Not just because I think you should.

Because the bucket of gold belongs to you too.

And the thieves only steal from the bucket when they think no-one is watching.

So, guess what?

In the real world, you're the sheriff too.

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