top of page

The Australian Media Industry      


  Media Ownership and Regulation














       In this unit students


  • Examine the role of the media in democratic societies.

  • Identify and analyse  factors affecting the role of the media in a democracy

  • Investigate and understand why media ownership and diversity is important in a democracy

  • Examine the rules for media ownership in Australia

  • Examine the debate about the diversity of media ownership and its relevance to democracy




fAter working through this unit, you will have formulated a view of the role of the media in a democracy, analysed the factors affecting the role of the media in a democracy, and examined the circumstances in which access to information and its publication have been restricted. Formulating your view on the role of the media will enable you to explore your own views and values with regards to democracy, and develop your research and critical literacy skills. You may also be required to work with others, and to understand and empathise with their points of view.


Focus question


How does the media contribute to democratic government, and how does media ownership and  regulation  influence its effectiveness as a ‘guardian of democracy’.



 Introduction:  Reading


As the citizens of a democracy, Australians value freedoms which may not be enjoyed in some other countries. However, these same freedoms mean that we are faced with the need to make choices – choices which are often difficult and involve complex issues. Democratic government, after all, is about ‘government by the people’, and in order to make choices about representatives and hold them accountable, modern democracies require a well-informed citizenry. The media plays an important role in this process by providing information, commentary and opinion. In so doing, it shapes our understanding of the world and influences our decision making.


A ‘free press’, or ensuring that the media does not have any undue restrictions placed upon it, is a hallmark of democratic societies. Indeed, the right to freedom of speech would mean very little in modern societies without access to a free press, or a media that was free of government interference.


In this unit you will be asked to consider the factors that influence the role of the media in a democracy, namely media ownership, truth in media, political interference in the media, and the impact of new media, such as the Internet.


Media Ownership


A Media Owner is a person, enterprise or organisation that controls, either through personal ownership or a dominant position, any media enterprise.


Owning or controlling a media outlet or corporation is considered to be a very powerful position, as it potentially enables the control of information and the shaping of popular opinion.


In this section, you will investigate the rules for media ownership in Australia, and examine the debate about the Diversity of media ownership and its relevance to Democracy.



The Media in a Democracy


A free, open and diverse media that has the unrestricted power to inform the population on issues of public interest has always been a crucial component of a functioning democracy. A free and diverse media sector can enforce transparency and accessibility in politics and can help to ensure that leaders within government and business are accountable for their actions.


In countries that are not democracies, or that do not share Australia’s liberal democratic principles, the media operates under restrictions with respect to what it can report. Editors and journalists may face gaol, or worse, if they report unfavourably on the government, politicians, or other powerful interests, such as businesses or corporations




Investigation 1: Does the media need democracy?


In countries that are not democracies, or that do not share Australia’s liberal democratic principles, the media operates under severe restrictions with respect to what it can report. Editors and journalists may face gaol, or worse, if they report unfavourably on the government, politicians, or other powerful interests, such as businesses or corporations. Read a sample of the articles below, or share them among your group, and respond to the questions that follow


Analysis Task


View the following   news report or  Download, and read  the article and write responses to the following questions: You may work in a group to discuss responses to the questions























 Al-Jazeera journalists jailed for seven years in Egypt

















        Al-Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher

        Mohamed listen to the ruling in Cairo as they are jailed

       Tuesday June 24



And rather than censoring the media directly, governments can effectively control coverage by getting individuals to censor themselves. As Andrei Soldatov, a Russian blogger, told Index on Censorship last week: "Very few people [have been] sent to jail for posting critical things online, and relatively few new media were put under direct government pressure." But freedom of expression on the internet in Russia has been hugely affected: users have become cautious in their comments, and internet companies, even when invited to talk to Vladimir Putin, are so frightened that they failed to raise the issue of regulation.


"The beauty of the Russian approach," Soldatov said, "is that it doesn't need to be technically sophisticated to be efficient. It also doesn't need mass repression against journalists or activists. So why is that? Basically, the Russian approach is all about instigating self-censorship." It is a similar story in countries such as Azerbaijan, which have used smear tactics against investigative journalists in an effort to discredit them and frighten them off their reports, or claim they believe in free speech while arresting prominent free speech campaigners on spurious charges such as drug possession.


An anti-protest law passed in Egypt at the end of last year gives security forces the right to break up any gathering held without government authorisation, and allows the use of lethal force against demonstrators deemed a threat to public order.

Those al-Jazeera journalists work for a well-resourced international organisation, with a network of vocal supporters. Not all of those under threat of censorship have such a network, and it is crucial that the international community pays attention to these individuals too: the bloggers still under arrest in Ethiopia for trying to report events in the country, the Turkish journalists dismissed from their papers for failing to toe their owners' official lines, and the citizen journalists harassed by Brazilian police for reporting anti-government protests.


Freedom to speak, write or even tell your friends what is happening is vitally important. Without information people will never learn about disasters and how to avoid them in future. They will never know that there is an epidemic and to take precautions. People must feel free and safe to share information and opinions. Without freedom of expression people will never be able to trust their governments




1.What does the article propose as the cause of the erosion of freedom of expression?

2.According to the writer  what role do some governments play in restricting  journalists from investigating and reporting objectively.?

3.who are the  main opponents of press freedom in the presentation/article, and explain how and why they seek to influence the media?

4.Research and provide a brief description of whay the three journalists were jailed in Egypt 



Reporting and presenting your findings


Discuss your responses to the questions with members of your group  complete the  analysis 

and upload and submit 











How does the media contribute to democratic government? 

How does a free press contribute to a democracy ?

In countries that are not democaracies what restrictions are placed

on the media ?





 Conduct an internet search to find 2  articles about violations of journalists  rights. Use your sources to :  


 write a newspaper article, or create a poster, design a brochure or multimedia display based on one of the following statements:


 (a) In the battle to protect freedom of speech, journalists are the first line of defence.

 (b) The extent to which a society is democratic can be measured by the degree of freedom the media enjoy 


Media Ownership


Investigation 2: Who owns the media?: Media ownership and influence


Owning or controlling a media outlet or corporation is considered to be a very powerful position, as it potentially enables the control of information and the shaping of popular opinion. In this section, you will investigate the rules for media ownership in Australia, and examine the debate about the diversity of media ownership and its relevance to democracy


In many countries, there are restrictions, not just on what can be published in the media, but on the very ownership and establishment of media outlets or corporations. It is usual for governments to run radio and television programs, and, in some countries, even ‘official’ newspapers


In countries that are not democracies these restrictions and controls operate to support the ‘official’ or government point of view, to the exclusion of other perspectives or criticisms.


In democracies, however, media laws regarding ownership are enforced to ensure a diversity of choice of media, so that there can be a plurality of views, and the extent to which they can or should do this is often the source of public debate.


In Australia, some people assert that the choice of media has gradually been eroded in recent decades, pointing to the extinction of the afternoon paper and the dominance of just one newspaper in some Australian capitals. Others, however, see in the rise of new media, such as the Internet and digital broadcasting, as opportunities for a diversity voices and opinions to be heard.


















In Australia, there are three different types of media organisations: government, commercial and community.




Government media organisations are those owned by the government. In many  countries, government ownership equates to government control of the media.


In Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Special Broadcasting Corporation (SBS) are both owned by the federal government. The ABC’s editorial independence is enshrined in legislation. The act specifies that the ABC must maintain an “independent national broadcasting service”. The ABC is also prohibited from broadcasting advertisements to ensure that it maintains independent of commercial interests. According to the Special Broadcasting Services Act of 1991, the responsibilities of the SBS board include maintaining the “independence and integrity” of the organisation. The fact that the independence of these organisations is protected by legislation means that, although they are owned by the government, the government does not have the power to control content or editorial policy. The services offered by ABC and SBS aren’t limited to television. The ABC has forty eight local radio stations in addition to nationwide broadcasters like Radio National and Triple J. SBS has two radio stations in addition to its television presence.


The ABC Charter is outlined in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act of 1983. The ABC must provide an “innovative and comprehensive” broadcasting service of a “high standerd” within Australia. They are mandated to broadcast programs that contribute to “a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community.” They are also required to broadcast programs of an “educational nature.” As part of the charter, the ABC is also required to transmit material to other countries to encourage an awareness of Australia and allow Australian citizens who are overseas to obtain information about Australian affairs. The ABC is also required to “promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia.”




Because the Australian government recognises the importance of the mass media to politics and society, the Australian Communication and Media Authority allocates television and radio frequencies to community broadcasters. Community media organisations are usually funded by the government, membership and advertising. Content is usually created by unpaid volunteers. Channel 31 is a community television station that broadcasts in a number of Australian cities, including Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth. According to Channel 31 Melbourne’s constitution, the organisation aims to: “Encourage community based participation and training in the production and transmission of television programs and for the encouragement of art, sport, music, and culture sourced from and directed to community groups within the wider Australian context through community television programming”





Commercial media organisations are privately owned companies that compete to make profits through advertising and program sales. Here is a list of the main media owners in Australia:


• The Murdochs. International media mogul Rupert Murdoch owns a number of Australia’s major capital city newspapers, including The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph and The Courier-Mail. His son, Lachlan Murdoch, is a majority shareholder in Nova, Network Ten, 93.7FM and FiveAA.


• Fairfax. Fairfax owns a number of capital city daily newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, as well as a number of smaller regional newspapers and radio stations including 2UE.


Kerry Stokes. A major shareholder of Seven, The West Australian and WAFM.


 James Packer. Although the Packer family traditionally owned Channel 9 and Australian Consolidated Press, they sold up much of their media interests. James Packer now owns a substantial share in Network Ten.


• The Gordons. Bruce and Andrew Gordon own a number of regional television stations throughout Australia, including WIN, Ten Mildura, Tasmanian Digital Television and West Digital Television.




Outcome task 


The ABC was founded on July 1, 1932. Since then it has provided Australians with independent, high quality media programs. Now the ABC is a vast media network which includes television and radio stations, magazines and a vast network of websites and internet streaming services.

In many countries, state owned media corporations are controlled by the government. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 ensures that the ABC will provide an “independent national broadcasting service.” The ABC’s Charter, which is part of this act, is fascinating reading for a legal document. It mandates that the ABC must provide programs which “contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community.” It also directs the organisation to provide programs of an “educational nature”. The ABC is an important provider of news and current affairs in Australia, producing programs that are free of political bias and commercial interests.


ASSESSMENT TASK: Media Organisation Research Report


Every year the ABC produces an annual report, which outlines their achievements and contains a detailed financial statement. Use the current ABC annual report to answer the following questions.

1. Give an overview of the type of programs that the ABC produces. Which forms of media do they use to broadcast texts?

2. Where does the ABC get its income and finance from? How much does it cost to run the ABC?

3. Who owns the ABC? What is the role of the Board of Directors?

4. In your own words, describe the ABC’s Vision, Mission and Values. What is the ABC’s Charter and what does it say about what they should do?

5. What sort of audience does the ABC attract?


Much of the above information can be found from the 2014 ABC Annual Report.




create a powerpoint or powtoons presentation on one of the following


Investigate one of the following Australian media organisations: Triple J, 774 3LO, ABC1, Channel 7, Channel 10, Channel 9, RRR, Channel 31, Nova, Radio National, The Age, The Herald-Sun, The Australian

You need to include the following information in your presentation:
• ownership of the Media organisation;
• a brief history of the organisation;
• circulation or ratings figures for the organisation;
• types of programs and/or content of the organisation;
• type of audience/demographic that the organisation attracts;
• code of conduct, vision statement or any other institutional.


As part of your presentation you must provide a one-page fact sheet covering all of this information for the class.








With the ability to sway public opinion, the media is widely seen as an important and influential industry

Here a number of reasons why media diversity is important:


• Decision making. We make important decisions about issues based on information obtained from the mass media. We need a diversity of views and opinions so we are informed and make the right decisions.


• Democratic process. In democratic societies like Australia, we use the news media to make decisions about who will represent us in parliament and pass laws on our behalf. A diverse and objective news media is crucial to help us make the right decision. According to the Centre for Democracy and Governance, the media is essential to a healthy democracy for two key reasons: “First, it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. Second, information serves a “checking function”by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them. In some societies, an antagonistic relationship between media and government represents a vital and healthy element of fully functioning democracies.”


• Political influence. Having a diverse media means that it is less likely that media moguls, like Rupert Murdoch, will be able to have too much influence over the electoral process.


• Political accountability. The news media also helps to keep our politicians accountable, scrutinising their decisions and policies. A diverse and tenacious news media helps to keep our leaders honest and ensures that they act in the public interest.


• Corporate accountability. Large multinational corporations play an important role in our lives. Unfortunately, they don’t always act in the public interest, doing what is best for their shareholders and the profitability of the company. The news media helps to monitor the behaviour of big business and ensure that they act in an ethical and responsible manner.


• Community voice. Having a diversity of media organisations means that the media will better reflect the needs of our community and culture. In Australia, for example, it is more cost effective for media organisations to have fewer newsrooms and source content from overseas. This could potentially reduce our access to Australian content. Similarly, smaller regional media outlets provide a voice for people living in rural and remote areas.



Raad the following article :  


Australia’s lamentable media diversity needs a regulatory fix



1. why do you think diversity of media ownership is important?
2 What arguments are made about the internet and how it might affect the importance of media diversity?




Media ownership in Australia


Australians rely on the media to provide facts and interpretations of the world. The information we receive from TV, newspapers, radio and the internet allows us to understand our world and provides us with the information we need to make social and political decisions. The increasing complexity of these decisions in the last decades has meant an increased reliance on media sources. Democratic countries encourage and enforce diversity in media ownership because diversity minimises the risk that the information their citizens receive is adversely influenced by the interests of the media organisation which provides it. While Australia has some rules encouraging media diversity by limiting concentration in media ownership and limiting foreign ownership of media sources, it is doing badly in both areas by international comparisons. Australia is ranked 26th in the world for media freedom, a ranking influenced by media diversity. Currently two newspaper groups (News Limited and John Fairfax Holdings) account for over 90 per cent of the circulation of daily newspapers, and Australia has only three commercial television networks


Media   Regulation laws


The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the BSA) sets out rules that are designed to ensure that there are limits on ownership of media within specified licence areas.

These rules apply to commercial broadcasting licences and licensee companies, individuals and companies who control them and to directors of such companies.

The ACMA is responsible for monitoring and enforcing these rules. Acquisitions of controlling interests in commercial licences through share transactions, the transfer of licences or in any other way are not subject to approval by the ACMA.



The concentration or diversity of ownership of Australian media has long been partly limited in Australia by legislation. In October 2006, the Australian Parliament passed legislation for new media laws that commenced on 4 April 2007.


These amendments reformed the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 which regulates ownership and control rules for commercial television and radio broadcasting, subscription television broadcasting, international broadcasting, datacasting transmitters and newspapers. The purpose of the original Act was to encourage diversity and quality of media services, controlling access to the market and the services that are offered. The amendments, however, lifted foreign and cross ownership restrictions on media markets.


A new ‘two out of three’ rule meant that companies are allowed to own up to two media outlets – television, radio and newspaper – in a single area. Mergers are allowed if the transaction passes a media diversity test that ensures there are five remaining independent media groups in metropolitan markets and four in regional markets. Under the amended laws, media mergers are subject to the approval of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).


These laws have allowed further concentration of media ownership. This has reduced the number of media owners in Australia and enriched a cabal of present media moguls, and enabled them to have two out of three ownership of a newspaper, television and radio station within a single area. This represents a serious potential threat to democracy


Licence area and audience reach


A person must not be in a position to exercise control of commercial television broadcasting licences whose total licence area population exceeds 75 per cent of the population of Australia.


Limitations on control of media operations in a licence area


   A person must not be in a position to exercise control of:


·  more than one commercial television broadcasting licence in the same licence area

·  more than two commercial radio broadcasting licences in the same licence area.

   A person must not be a director of a company or companies that are in a position

   to exercise control of: more than one commercial television broadcasting licence in the same licence area

·  more than two commercial radio broadcasting licences in the same licence area

·  a commercial television broadcasting licence and a datacasting transmitter licence.


Foreign ownership and control


The BSA does not restrict foreign control of commercial broadcasting licences or foreign directorships in companies which control such licences. Foreign ownership of Australian media assets is regulated by the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 and Australia’s Foreign Investment Policy. 


In 2015 Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull attempted to reform media ownership rules  in favour of abolishing Australia’s platform-specific ownership rules regulating newspapers and radio and television. The Ministers  proposals were to abandon the so-called reach rule and the two-out-of-three rule. He has long been a proponent of the view that these rules are outdated and have limited scope. He is also sympathetic to media companies’ claims that a lack of earnings growth, an uncertain advertising market, audience fragmentation across media platforms and the digital migration of advertisers have severely limited their capacity to grow.

The reach rule prevents metropolitan free-to-air networks merging with regional affiliates by limiting audience reach to 75 per cent, and the two-out-of three rule stops entities from owning more than two of a newspaper, commercial TV licence or radio licence in a major market.


The  Government however elected not to proceed with the reform citing a lack of  consensus in the industry.




Upload and submit your Analysis Task 

The jailing of three al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt marks a disturbing new stage in the erosion of freedom of expression rights worldwide. In 2013 more than 200 journalists were jailed worldwide for doing their job – close to recorded highs.


A free press is one of the cornerstones of a free society. And it needs to be free in practice, not just in theory. This means not just enshrining guarantees of press freedom – and freedom of expression more generally – in the legal system, but also making sure that other laws such as those ostensibly created to protect citizens from, say, terrorists should not be used as a means to stifle the press.


In countries including Egypt, Turkey and Russia, laws brought in to protect national security are being used to prevent journalists from investigating and reporting objectively. They are being used against citizens who criticise their governments. The effect of these laws, and of rulings such as that made today by the Egyptian court, is to create a climate of fear that means other journalists, bloggers, campaigners and activists are afraid to speak out.

bottom of page