Oz will abolish restrictions on foreign ownership and relax its stringent cross-media ownership rules, according to a long-awaited discussion paper on media reform released by Communications Minister Helen Coonan on Tuesday.
“There is a compelling case for change, and if the government does not act, then there is a genuine risk that Australia will become a dinosaur of the analog age,” Coonan said, launching the paper at a Committee for the Economic Development of Australia lunch in Sydney.
Current media laws restrict newspaper, radio and TV groups in the same city to a 15% stake in each other. Foreign companies can purchase only 15% of a TV company and 25% of a newspaper.
Under the new rules, newspaper and TV companies can merge so long as a minimum number of media companies — five in the capital cities, four in the regional markets — continue to operate.
Foreign ownership would have to be approved by the government.
Such changes would once have triggered a flurry of takeovers. But after a delay of almost a decade, most media groups are now more focused on Internet-based mergers and on new content delivery platforms.
Coonan suggested pushing back the analog switchoff date from 2008 to 2010 for cities and 2012 for regional areas.
But Coonan kept the antisiphoning laws that give free-to-air networks first broadcast rights of key sports coverage.
The government will accept comments on the paper until April 18.