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Keeping Conroy out of bed with Rinehart


Mining magnate Gina Rinehart has many Australians worried about the future of Australian democracy after increasing her shareholding in Fairfax Media to just under 15 per cent. This, they believe, is just the beginning of her attempt to spoil the tradition of independent journalism we'[ve enjoyed as readers of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Former Age editor Andrew Jaspan summarised his fears in the newsletter of the group of eight universities' topical ideas website The Conversation, which he now runs.

In a 1979 polemic called 'Wake up Australia', Gina's father, Lang Hancock argued: 'We can change the situation so as to limit the power of government', before concluding: 'it could be broken by obtaining control of the media and then educating the public'.

The obvious response to this is that the government can and should do more to limit the power of wealthy Australians seeking to dominate debate. This is being done, but only to an extent. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy admits there is a need to strengthen regulations to ensure media diversity, but is essentially quite relaxed about Rinehart's move on Fairfax.

'It has always been the case in Australia over my lifetime in politics that a small number of families have had a controlling interest in the majority of the media in this country,' he told ABC Radio.

Conroy has cultivated good relations with at least some of these families. Two years ago he enjoyed a game of golf with James Packer on the day the government announced a $250 million licence fee rebate for free-to-air television stations. The stations subsequently reaped further huge rewards from the success of the extra digital channels the government allowed them.

Despite the UK Government's current hard line against Murdoch, it is unlikely politicians will ever take decisive action to limit the power of the dominant media owners because their electoral success is linked to positive media coverage. 

If we accept that politicians cannot be trusted to regulate the media without fear or favour, we must consider taking certain fundamental aspects of media regulation out of the hands of government altogether. This could be done by making media diversity subject to a charter of human rights. 

Obviously we do not have a human rights charter, and are unlikely to have one in the immediate future because the Government rejected the recommendations of the Brennan committee in 2010.

But media diversity is indeed a human right, and the Government's weak performance in legislating in this area represents a powerful argument for Australians to insist upon revisiting the human rights charter that was proposed.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Gina Rinehart, Stephen Conroy, media diversity, human rights charter, Fairfax



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Existing comments

Here we go again! Gina Rinehart is the perfect punching bag for conspiracy theorists. If you are as wealthy as Gina Rinehart , it may be a good idea to diversify some investments. Buying shares in some media companies may look good for some investors. Is buying shares in the print media in 2012 a good idea? I am not sure. I believe that buying a newspaper is like cutting down a tree in order to read yesterdays bad news.

Beat Odermatt | 06 February 2012  

Thank you for making me aware of yet another "human right" that I didn't know I possessed (media diversity). I have acquired so many previously unknown to me human rights in recent years that I am now in a position where I can do almost anything I want, regardless of others!

john frawley | 06 February 2012  

This is an interesting link to follow vis-a-vis the mining industry's strategy. Monckton in a secret meeting advising them to take control of the media. http://www.getup.org.au/minersmediaplan

mike pauly | 06 February 2012  

I think it is good that Gina Rinehart has acquired apx.13% of Fairfax Media. It is about time that we have an opportunity to read both sides of the story in the Sydney Morning Herald and not just left-wing propaganda. Climate Realists have every right to be informed of what is happening in the world and not just the gospel of Al Gore, Tim Flannery and company.We must safeguard free speech and fair media in Australia

Ron Cini | 06 February 2012  

I heard Stephen Mayne say on radio that he believes Gina Rinehart's sudden purchase of a stake in Fairfax was inspired by the negative portrait of her in Good Weekend not long back, by Jane Cadzow. The implication was that she would be able to put a stop to such things in future, if she were on the board. This is quite possible - and I do believe Gina R is a babe in the woods when it comes to media. However, $20 billion can buy a lot of influence. I was staggered to hear Janet Albrechtson say that Rinehart's influence within Fairfax would lead to a welcome diversity in the Aust media - as if there is diversity now, with the huge presence of Murdoch in so many media.

Rodney Wetherell | 07 February 2012  

I fully agree with the comments made by Ron Cini. It also may change, to a certain extent, the way the Catholic Church is treated by the Fairfax Press.

John Tobin | 10 February 2012  

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