Media ownership and regulation: a chronology part one: from print to radio days and television nights

1 Feb 2016


The first newspaper was printed in Australia less than two decades after the First Fleet arrived in 1788. The paper was subject to government censorship, and as a consequence, one commentator has (somewhat harshly perhaps) described its reporting as a mixture of sycophancy and frivolous nonsense. Government censorship of the press decreased from 1824 onwards, and the print media has since that time for the most part enjoyed considerable freedom from specific government regulation. Government actions, however, in relation to broadcasting control and ownership and with respect to other issues, such as wartime censorship, have affected the way in which Australian newspapers conduct their business.

As for the broadcasting media, there were specific broadcasting powers included in the Australian Constitution, and one of the earliest pieces of federal legislation expressly imposed licensing, operational and technical standards, albeit that in 1901 there were no actual broadcast media in operation. From the 1920s, when radio stations first began to broadcast to the public, they were subject to government restrictions in a number of forms, including licensing requirements.

At the time of the first radio broadcasts there were many and varied media voices—26 capital city daily newspapers were published for example, and 21 of these were independently owned. Diversity of ownership began to diminish from the mid-1920s, however, and by the 1930s, media concentration had reached a stage where government became concerned that the lack of diversity in media voices was not adequately serving the public interest. Consequently, from that time, various governments have attempted to address media concentration by regulatory means—some by strengthening, others by relaxing it. However, despite these strategies, Australia now has one of the most concentrated media environments in the world.

This chronology traces the story of media ownership concentration and control since 1901 and the government policies and regulations that have responded to, or attempted to pre-empt the trend towards concentration that has occurred since the 1920s. It provides an outline and brief explanation of, and where possible, links to government investigations and regulatory frameworks for the media since Federation. In so doing, it illustrates the ways in which regulations have affected, and in turn have been affected by, changes in ownership and control of both print and broadcasting media.

The chronology will be published in three parts. Part one traces the development of the media from colonial times to the end of 1971. Part two of the chronology continues the story from 1972 to the end of 1995. The final part of the chronology deals with the period from 1996 to the present.

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