Oz Senate scuttles media ownership bill

Anticipation of mergers, takeovers caused stocks to rise

SYDNEY — A government-sponsored media reform bill that would have allowed Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer to own a TV station and newspaper in Australia’s capital cities has been torpedoed by the Senate.

The government abandoned its attempt to pass the legislation Thursday after refusing to accept amendments by the Senate that would have blocked television and paper mergers in the same cities.

Stocks of most Oz media groups had risen in the past few days in anticipation of a welter of takeovers and mergers upon approval of the bill. Analysts had expected that the Fairfax newspaper group, long coveted by Packer, and the Ten network, thought to be attractive to Murdoch, would be takeover targets.

Keeping biz local

The measure also would have lifted the caps on foreign ownership of Oz media companies.

Independent senators, who hold the balance of power in the chamber, sought to impose limits on the legislation due to fears it would enable Murdoch and Packer to boost their influence and control and would not lead to greater diversity, as claimed by the government.

Communications Minister Sen. Richard Alston rejected the Senate’s amendments as “a cross-media straitjacket by another name.”

The government had argued the cross-media and foreign ownership rules, in force since 1992, were outdated and no longer necessary.