Dereg debates rise in Australia, Britain


If it was "World Media Ownership Day" Thursday, someone forgot to tell us.

Not only was the U.S. Senate marking up the regulatory Federal Communications Commission-reauthorization
bill, but the Australian {arliament was defeating its own media-deregulation bill and
PBS president Pat Mitchell was delivering a 'cautionary' tale about deregulation
to Britain's House of Lords, which is in the midst of debating its own legislation.

The Guardian newspaper's Web site ( was reporting that
Australia's media-dereg bill, backed by an expansion-minded Rupert Murdoch, was
defeated Thursday after a poison-pill amendment (our characterization) banning
newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership was added by an independent Tasmanian

The Conservative party-backed bill was thought to be on track after a
U.S.-style diversity index was added.

The upper-house defeat was characterized as "a dagger through the heart for
media reform."

Meanwhile, in London, Mitchell was addressing the House of Lords at the
request of an old friend, the Labor Party's Lord Puttnam, who is trying to put
limits on a media-dereg bill there that, according to The Guardian, would
benefit Murdoch by allowing him to own Channel Five there.

Saying she was providing a cautionary tale as Britain debated its own
communications bill, Mitchell said the world media landscape is now dominated by
"a handful of global conglomerates."

Identifying them as The Walt Disney Co., Viacom Inc., News Corp. and her old boss, AOL Time
Warner Inc., Mitchell said, "In the opinion of many who have watched these big
companies consolidate, sometimes [they] put their needs for profits at cross-purposes with their need to provide open access, diversity of product and the
public's need to be informed, as well as entertained."

Mitchell singled out Murdoch and News Corp., though not by name, saying, "18
million Americans who now get their media delivered by satellite may well be
facing the reality of one gatekeeper" -- an obvious reference to Murdoch's
proposed purchase of DirecTV Inc., which made even less oblique by her kicker: "His name
would be a familiar one to you."

On a regulatory roll, Mitchell told the Lords (and Baronesses): "You cannot
have a democracy without having a healthy, democratic media system, and media is
too important to leave to the marketplace to control or direct."

Public broadcasting "can and should be the antidote to
consolidation everywhere," she said, "but we cannot be the only