Having arrived at the conclusion that Australia needs to move on from the regulatory regime protecting domestic news media, the Federal Government has almost got it right in its Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2002.
Implementation of this legislation represents an important step in ensuring Australia’s media outlets maintain the capacity and resources to stay in step with technological developments.
Where it falls short is in failing to remove the final barriers preventing our media from realising its proper potential in terms of benefit to its consumers.
There appears little remaining opposition to the view that vigorous competition is the best way to maximise an openness of debate and freedom of expression that most people - politicians and public alike - would generally associate with "the Australian way".
Yet, while this latest attempt at regulating the media environment has the potential to increase competition, there is a strong argument for a broader approach to media policy generally, addressing such issues as the number of free-to-air television broadcasters - currently capped at existing levels until at least January 2007 - and what many see as overly-restrictive rules relating to datacasting.
It needs to be said that the Labor and Democrat focus on diversity, without regard to quality, is simply not realistic. The important question of quality is well addressed in the Senate submission of John Fairfax Holdings Ltd, arguing, in effect, that without access to sufficient resources and technology, media outlets would lack true independence.
It also needs to be recognised that competition, diversity and quality are equally ranking factors in ensuring the Australian media provides a forum for freedom of expression and healthy debate - characteristics affording the best defence against the creeping imposition of censorship.
Censorship at any level threatens to stifle new thought. As foreign as it is to "the Australian way", it exists here through media ownership regulation and has the potential to expand through political agitation.
The nanny state mentality of a few needs to be resisted in the interest of the majority; democracy needs to rule.
We cannot simply retreat into the perceived security of regulation that may have suited particular periods of our colonial past when confronted with the challenges of our global future. And our politicians and policymakers will need to learn to exercise more than knee-jerk reactions to such issues as freedom of expression, which go to the heart of our society’s values.
Reactions such of those of Victoria’s Bracks Government, in electing to develop "gender portrayal guidelines" for outdoor advertising may sound reasonable to some, but their implications need thinking through on behalf of the many.
Public policy requires a sense of ultimate destination as well as immediate direction.
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