Shrill response to media reforms
The wave of opposition to the government's proposed media reforms was as personal as it was shrill - the extreme end of which was Rupert Murdoch's tabloid The Daily Telegraph depicting Communications Minister Stephen Conroy in ideological league with Stalin, Castro and Mugabe - just to name a few.
Sure, the changes were delivered via press release in a hamfisted manner with insufficient detail, but it is not the first time governments have engaged in poor communications and policy execution.
The issue for News Ltd is that it appears to be the main target. Julia Gillard wants to rein in Murdoch's ability to continue its unfettered anti-government editorial spray.
Thus it was no surprise that the News Ltd press and its management were screaming the loudest.
News Corp's Australian boss, Kim Williams, was on the offensive yesterday, likening the government to a "public interest Soviet Tsar".
The introduction of the Public Interest Media Advocate to oversee press standards might ultimately be harmless, but neither the breadth of its scope nor its powers to sanction were contained in the detail of the press release.
Any curtailment of press freedom catches others in its net, which is why Fairfax Media management was cold on the idea of a legislated press standards body. No industry takes well to increased regulation or oversight.
Thus Conroy left himself open to critics who said the proposals would endanger press freedom.
Putting that concern aside, the remainder of the package received a response typical of any new proposed policy. It was all about self-interest.
Those most directly affected are the free-to-air TV networks.
The metropolitan networks and their regional counterparts are all in favour of the plan to cut licence fees. None were debating the merits of this and the remainder of the industry doesn't care.
Abolition of the 75 per cent audience reach rule elicited a different response. In theory all the three metropolitan networks are in favour, and have previously argued for this relaxation.
But there is only one - Nine Network - that has its ducks in a row to act on it. Nine and regional operator Southern Cross Media are well down the path of negotiating a merger that would result in a back-door stockmarket listing for Nine.
It has the first-mover advantage and Ten and Seven, don't like it. It disadvantages Ten most because Southern Cross is its regional affiliate.
It suits Southern Cross because teaming up with a higher-rating Nine Network will improve its ratings and the corporate tie-up should lead to a stock re-rating, depending on the terms of the merger.
Nine's regional affiliate WIN TV would be left without a dance partner, in what would constitute the end of a messy night. It runs the Nine feed in regional Australia and owns the Nine metropolitan stations in Perth and Adelaide.
WIN might ultimately have to manage two sets of affiliations - use Nine Network for these two capital cities and another, probably Ten, for its regional feed.
To complicate matters further, the owner of WIN, Bruce Gordon, is a large shareholder in Ten.
Increasing TV audience reach to 75 per cent gives all the networks optionality but for Ten and Seven, buying a regional network might not suit them right now.
Both would need to raise equity to undertake such an acquisition, and Ten in particular would find this difficult and dilutive, given its current performance.
And allowing Nine to get ahead of the game and receive all the positive synergies of owning a regional network would put them at a disadvantage.
It would certainly place pressure on Seven to move on Prime TV, its current affiliate.
In a general sense it would put the regionals in play. WIN's Gordon, who is in his 80s and operates the company from his home in Bermuda, seems in no rush to sell up.
Meanwhile, the government's attempts to look at television supply agreements appear to be directly pinpointing the relationship between News Ltd and Network Ten - the former controlled by Murdoch, the latter by his son Lachlan.
The government has been concerned about the editorial tie-up between News and Ten's political current affairs program Meet The Press. The recent appointment of a New Ltd executive, Hamish McLennan, to run Ten only adds to the government's unease.
It is worth noting that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission dropped an investigation into Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer taking control of Ten and ditching its digital sport channel, despite the fact it ran in competition with Fox Sports, which was owned by Packer and News.
The public interest test on any future media mergers is the aspect of the new proposals that could be a sleeper. This should be adequately dealt with by the ACCC and appears to represent a new layer of regulation that is unnecessary.
The trouble with Conroy's package is that other than the reach rules and licence fee reductions, the rest appears to be a broad spectrum measure to attack an particular bug - Rupert Murdoch.