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Report calls for overhaul of Oz’s media regulation

Murdoch, Packer push for change is backed up by gov't Commission

SYDNEY — Rupert Murdoch’s and Kerry Packer’s trenchant criticism of Australia’s media ownership laws has been endorsed by a Productivity Commission report on the rules that calls for a media regulation overhaul.

The report was commissioned last year by the conservative government, which wants to scrap the laws but has repeatedly been thwarted by a hostile Senate and bickering media moguls who have long lobbied for the rules to be altered to benefit their empires.

Foreign-ownership limits prevent naturalized American citizen Murdoch from controlling an Oz web, while cross-media ownership caps prevent terrestrial TV owner Packer from owning the Fairfax newspaper empire.

Mergers precluded

“The cross-media rules prevent mergers among ‘old’ media companies and will impose increasingly severe constraints on them,” the report says, calling for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to oversee media takeovers with a public interest test to replace the foreign and cross-media ownership restrictions.

Also the report says a $1 billion plan for conversion to digital TV “is at serious risk of failure,” as it “stifles competition and innovation.”

The report also calls for the repeal of rules preventing feevee operators from outbidding terrestrials for exclusive sports rights, while, in a win for local producers, the report ignores pleas of web owners to abolish rules requiring 55% local content in primetime.

However, government reps said there is little chance of immediate change while the Senate remains opposed and until media moguls agree on what shape a new regime should take.

In an unexpected move, the Labor Party has dropped an objection to allowing Australians who take another passport to retain Oz citizenship. If adopted, that policy change would benefit Murdoch.

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