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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 March 2006, 06:58 GMT
Australia planning media shake-up
Rupert Murdoch reading a newspaper
Mr Murdoch is expected to cast his eye over Australian media assets
Australia is planning to shake up its media market by relaxing strict rules on ownership, a move that could spark a spate of mergers in the industry.

Under the present rules, foreign companies cannot own more than 15% of a TV company or 25% of a newspaper firm.

There also is a limit of 15% on the amount of TV, radio and print holdings one company can own in a single city.

The government said consumers' needs had changed and reform was needed to stop Australia becoming a "dinosaur".


"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 analogue age," said Communications Minister Helen Coonan.

The government will now consult media companies over the planned changes.

What I think we have to recognise is that the whole landscape for media has changed
Helen Coonan, Communications Minister

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard has been hampered in his efforts to change the media law because his conservative coalition did not control the upper house of parliament, the Senate.

However, the government now controls both houses of federal parliament, increasing its chances of getting the new legislation passed.

Analysts said that the relaxation of the media laws would clear the way for firms including Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and Publishing and Broadcasting - which was built up by the late Kerry Packer - to strengthen their positions in the market.

Companies that may attract buyers include Fairfax, the publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne's Age, and Ten Network, Australia's third-ranked TV network.

Shifting trends

Ms Coonan said that the changes would not necessarily mean the concentration of assets in a few hands.

"What I think we have to recognise is that the whole landscape for media has changed," she said.

"People now get news and diversity from hundreds, if not thousands, of unmediated additional sources."

To ensure a broad range of opinion, the government wants each of Australia's main cities to have at least five media companies, while rural areas should have four.

The government would also still have to approve any purchase by a foreign company.

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