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National interest vs respect for the bereaved

Today, the country awoke to the news that one of the most powerful people in Australia, Kerry Packer, has passed away. The same condolences apply as to anyone else who loses a loved one. But with his death comes an unprecedented opportunity for Australia.

For years, Australian media policy (along with many other policies) has been dominated by two men: Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch. This control is absolutely understandable. With the ABC adopting a permanent left-wing anti-Government bias, balanced political discussion in Australia is dominated by a small number of players, led mostly by the Packer and Murdoch empires. Murdoch moreso, but it is not unknown for Packer to exert editorial control. If you are politician, say Peter Costello, and you are told that a given policy would not be view favourably by Murdoch, it doesn't take much of a threat to make you rethink your policies, knowing that upsetting the Murdoch empire could cost you your shot at PM.

And this is why now represents an unprecedented opportunity for a brave Australian politician. With Murdoch having his own troubles (and being an American) and the Packers just having to take a little bit of time to get over the death and get their affairs in order, now would be the perfect time for a politician to bring media ownership and regulation under control.

This does, however, lead to an ethical dilemma. There is no doubt that getting media laws under control is in Australia's national interest. On the other hand, it would require taking advantage of a family as they mourn their loss. On the other hand, if it is delayed, it is considerably more likely that nothing will happen. It is highly likely that nothing will happen, and media reform won't even be discussed. Does the national interest take precedence over respect for the bereaved? Should it? Should respect for the bereaved even be a factor for something as significant as control of the country's media?

I'm not a betting man, but if I was, I'd bet that nothing will happen. My bet is that this will be another time when gutless pollies will let another opportunity for trying to wrest power away from the rich, unelected and unaccountable.


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