Labor would allow fourth TV network

Labor would allow fourth TV network, by Jason Koutsoukis - 19th April 2004
(Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

Labor leader Mark Latham plans a radical shake-up of Australian television with the introduction of a fourth commercial network if he becomes prime minister.

Labor believes a fourth commercial broadcaster would diversify media ownership and break the stranglehold on the $3.1 billion advertising market by the existing three networks.

The plan will anger the commercial networks, whose owners include Australia's richest, most powerful men - Kerry Packer of Nine and Kerry Stokes of Seven.

The three networks argue that Australia's population is too small to support a fourth commercial broadcaster.

They say a fourth network would not translate into increased advertising revenue, but merely force the division of existing revenue among four and lead to massive cost-cutting, with Australian-made productions to be the first to go.

But senior Labor figures, including Mr Latham and Opposition communications spokesman Lindsay Tanner, believe the three networks have to face up to more competition.

Mr Tanner, who has made no secret of his desire for a fourth network, believes the advertising market has grown sufficiently to support another network.

In the past two years, television advertising revenues have grown 17.3 per cent to $3.1 billion a year. In the five years to 2000, television advertising grew by about 25 per cent.

Mr Tanner has also pointed to commercial radio, which has thrived under the introduction of new licences, as an example of how television would also cope.

Last week the Australian Broadcasting Authority announced the sale of another commercial FM radio licence in Sydney, for $106 million.

Commercial Television Australia chief executive Julie Flynn, who represents the commercial broadcasters, said the industry had serious concerns about the introduction of a fourth network.

"We are on the record as being opposed to the introduction of a new licence because of the potential to jeopardise the high quality of Australian free-to-air television services," she said.

The Broadcasting Services Act prohibits the introduction of new commercial network licences until the end of 2006.

About 99 per cent of Australian homes have at least one television set. People watch an average 20 hours of television a week and an estimated 12 per cent of people watch commercial television exclusively.

If Labor won the federal election expected later this year it could mandate the introduction of a fourth commercial network licence, or it could allow the broadcasting authority to make its own decision to sell another licence effective from 2007.


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