There is a touch of deja vu to reports that the Australian Senate is close to passing changes to media ownership rules, which would allow a major shakeup across the Tasman.

Certainly, there seems to be an agreement among some politicians that could allow the changes to go through the Senate - maybe as early as today.

The Government wants changes that would ease the way for mergers which are currently disallowed. And the industry argues that relaxation is needed if Australian media are to compete with online advertising giants Facebook and Google.

However, critics say the proposed changes - if they do get through the Senate - would further reduce diversity. Similar arguments have been made in opposing proposed media mergers in this country.


While the potential for change is huge, observers of Australian media will know the industry has been here before - and there have been last-minute collapses, due in part to the volatility of Australian politics.

And right on cue, this week we have questions about Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce's eligibility to be in Parliament.

But if the media law changes do survive all the politicking, New Zealand has a peripheral role in the upheavals that could follow.

Reaching outAmong the reforms the Government is seeking are changes to the so-called "two out of three" rule. As things stand, that prevents a company from owning a TV station, a newspaper and a radio station all in the one licence area.

Also in the Government's sights is the "reach rule", which forbids a single TV station from reaching more than 75 per cent of Australians.

Across the Tasman, a key matter is speculation about closer ties between Fairfax Media and Nine Entertainment, owner of the Nine network.

In this country, Fairfax NZ and Herald publisher NZME have appealed to the High Court against the Commerce Commission's rejection of their planned merger, which would include ownership of and the Stuff website.

The question might be how any disposal of Fairfax NZ assets would fit with closer ties between Fairfax and Nine in Australia.


Another issue will be about the stance of Oaktree Capital Management, the US investor which owns MediaWorks, including half of New Zealand's commercial radio stations and TV3.

MediaWorks is the company that is most obviously in play.

Oaktree is reported to have picked up memorandums for the sale of the ailing Ten network, now in administration, as have other potential buyers. The Australian Financial Review has reported that US studio CBS was among those who have picked up the broadcaster's financial details.

The parties vying for Ten include Lachlan Murdoch and the WIN regional broadcaster, subject to Murdoch being granted regulatory approval.

The question has long been whether Oaktree would consider breaking up its radio-TV combo and sell one or both of them separately.

Few observers believe there would be any trouble in finding a buyer for the radio operation, which is profitable.


But buyers would no doubt be warier about taking on TV3, given the intense challenges facing free to air television.

The upshot of all this is that changes to Aussie ownership rules might have big implications here.


I'm tempted to congratulate TVNZ for not giving in to the mob demanding it removes Mike Hosking as moderator for the three election debates. In my view, Hosking will be neutral, as he was last election.

The head of news and current affairs at TVNZ, John Gillespie, says no politician will get an easy run in the debates. "Mike has skilfully moderated many elections for us over the years, and this election will be no different," he says.

But as a petition against Hosking's involvement passed 58,000 signatures this week, I couldn't help but wonder if the broadcaster had been careless by encouraging Hosking to present contentious editorial stances.

In my view, TVNZ has disregarded the way in which Hosking's commercial brand - as a conservative opinion maker on Seven Sharp - affects its limited non-commercial obligations.


I believe a lack of care for those non-commercial expectations has bitten the state broadcaster on the bum.