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Turnbull overlooks diversity in media regulation dismissal

Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull has stepped up his criticism of proposed new media regulation. AAP

Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull is overlooking critical issues of diversity and public interest in dismissing the need for further media regulation, say media experts.

Mr Turnbull today told a conference that the decision by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to block Seven Group from taking over Consolidated Media Holdings demonstrated more media regulation was not required.

Mr Turnbull also raised concerns about the difficulty of applying a public interest test to media mergers, something that is being considered as part of the government’s current Convergence Review.

The ACCC block of Seven Group, which paves the way for News Ltd to purchase ConsMedia, does not obviate the need for further media regulation, said Ben Goldsmith, senior research fellow at Queensland University of Technology.

Dr Goldsmith wrote three submissions to the Convergence Review on behalf of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation.

“Simply limiting the capacity of one large media company to buy a large proportion of another through competition rules is not in itself a sufficient guarantee that the public interest is being served,” Dr Goldsmith said.

He added that there were other important aspects in the operation of the media market that went beyond economics and normal competition rules.

Mr Turnbull today said the Coalition would aim to streamline existing media regulations and remove unnecessary legacy regulations, while focussing on a more flexible and adaptive regime.

“The test we should apply is simply this: what is the objective the regulation is seeking to achieve? Is it any longer relevant or necessary? If not, the regulations should go. If it is still relevant or necessary, then the next question "can we achieve the objective in a simpler, less expensive manner” and if we can, then we should,“ Mr Turnbull told the national radio conference.

"If the Coalition is serious about removing outdated regulation then that should really include the current cross media laws because they are framed around old media,” said Julian Thomas, director of the Swinburne Institute for Social Research, and professor of media and communications at Swinburne University of Technology.

“And when you take those out then there is a significant gap that does need to be filled,” he added.

“Obviously the Seven acquisition failed the competition law test … but a public interest test might usefully be applied to the News acquisition, and the question there would be what does this mean for the diversity of voices, of sources, of debate and ideas in our current media landscape?’

Professor Thomas said the answer might be that there would not be a problem, but to say it was not an issue that the government might address was not an adequate response to current problems.

"There’s a strong case for everyone to take the work that the Convergence Review did in this area seriously, whether or not we agree with their particular template for solving the problem,” Professor Thomas said.

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