Murdoch blasts Oz govt’s digital policy

Three commersh nets get free digital access until 2008

SYDNEY — Breaking nearly a week’s silence, News Australia topper Lachlan Murdoch has lashed out at the federal government’s recent digital TV policy decisions as “a missed opportunity to really start to make some sense of media communications policy in Australia.”

Led by Kerry Packer’s Nine web, Oz’s three commercial networks lobbied for, and got, free access to digital spectrum until 2008 and a guarantee that further competition, in the form of a fourth commercial TV license, would be ruled out for at least 10 years (Daily Variety, March 26).

News Australia led a major alliance of media, communication and consumer organizations opposing the webs’ digital designs. It won a few concessions: The webs were banned from multichanneling and offering feevee services, and must instead offer high-definition TV, while datacasting services will be open for all (rather than just the webs) via a competitive tendering system.

But the government’s shelving of a fourth TV license and its refusal to liberalize media ownership laws dashed News Corp.’s hopes to build a terrestrial TV presence Down Under.

“It was unthinkable that anyone would have the gall to ask for it and that anyone would have the gall to give it,” Murdoch told his national broadsheet the Australian of the decision to give free digital access to the webs and ban further competition. “We were disappointed with how the policy has come out.”

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