Remember Bond? Let's not return to troubled past
Kerry Packer famously once said: "Son, you only get one Alan Bond in your lifetime and I've had mine."
He said it to many and he said it to me. He was referring to a crazy time in the Australian media that followed government-imposed changes that made it possible to extend ownership of just two channels and to build a nationwide network.
Australia had had a very successful TV industry for decades, with people watching their local station, with its local identity, for more than three hours a day. But this change seemed like an unbelievable opportunity for those who had dreamt of becoming powerful media owners. It was an invitation to the rich, as well as their lenders.
So, way back in 1987, along came Alan Bond asking Kerry to sell his stations so he could combine them with his West Australian broadcasters. The WA tycoon with big ambitions said Kerry thumped the table and said that the price was $1 billion - not negotiable.
Years later on the Denton show Bond said he tried to knock him down but he made a quick call to his bankers and Kerry got his billion. Kerry had totally cleaned up. But by 1990, in less than three years, those great stations were back in the Packer media empire for the purchase price of $200 million after the Bond Corporation got into serious trouble.
It was one hell of a deal that put a breathtaking new spin on Nine's big game show of the period, Sale of the Century.
Elsewhere massive changes were under way as Seven Network changed hands and Ten Network did the same. The big Fairfax organisation also changed owners around the same time. In fact, there was a decade when all the media companies, except Rupert Murdoch, got new owners.
Without exception, none of these deals worked and Australia didn't get a better media system because of the ownership changes that were spawned by the new media laws of the day.
You might have been reading elsewhere in this paper and others over the past week of a new round of proposed changes to our media rules.
Louise, who would rather read a book than worry about media laws, is yawning loudly but Charlie, who has lived through all this mess created by governments in the past, rushes to explain.
He says that in simple terms, the
federal government wants to do two
things: first, change the rules of ownership that will enable an expansion of some interests - that is, some current media owners could buy more. And second, and simultaneously, it wants to introduce
higher levels of control or, in fact, censorship over what we might see
Censorship never makes any sense, especially in a society like Australia's, and is plainly stupid because it simply never works. It's even more ridiculous in this age when we have never had more sources of news and information services available to us from every region of the planet. However, my greatest fear is a return to the bad old days of our media changing hands fuelled by the big-money people lending to anyone who has a dream to be a media boss - as was the case with Bond, Christopher Skase and others who ultimately caused the collapse of great free enterprises.
I've been in this business for more than 40 years and this has happened several times in the past. It then takes a decade to bring our Australian media back into stability.
There's a lot of smoke rising out of these changes and there will be plenty more. However, unlike our Catholic brothers and sisters, it is not a gentle white puff of resolution ascending across Lake Burley Griffin, it's a nasty black cloud of confusion and disagreement.
If these changes proceed, suddenly Kerry Packer's famous words about "you only get one Alan Bond in your lifetime" will be relived, only this time it will be in our lifetime.
And how silly is that?