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AUSTRALIA: An Introduction to Australia

Australia: TMT: Media 

Authors: Justin Quill, Partner, Thomson Geer & John-Paul Cashen, Partner, Thomson Geer

After a number of years of stability, the media landscape in Australia has changed a great deal in the past 12 months with a number of significant mergers and acquisitions across major players.

Most significantly, Channel Nine effectively purchased Fairfax Media and Macquarie Radio, creating what is now probably the largest full service media organisation in Australia covering newspapers, television, radio and digital. American media giant CBS purchased Channel Ten, wiping out $800 million of debt. And whispers continue to circulate that Seven West Media is a takeover target, possibly by News Corp. Aside from creating acquisition work, it created some movement in the firms from whom major media organisations obtained their legal services.

At the same time many legal challenges have confronted the industry.

In early 2019 numerous media organisations were charged with contempt of court over reporting on the conviction of Catholic Cardinal George Pell for child sex offences. The case sees Victorian courts and prosecutors grappling with the challenges of attempting to criminalise conduct occurring outside of its jurisdiction. It also raises significant questions about whether there remains any benefit in the courts attempting to control information for traditional news publishers, when the same information is readily available online. Just about every major media organisation, along with senior journalists, editors and news directors, were charged with contempt of court. All those facing charges have retained the Thomson Geer Media Law Team to defend them. As this 'goes to print' those charges are only weeks away from being heard.

Australian Federal Police raids on News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst in her home and the Sydney offices of Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, created waves in the media legal industry because the AFP searched documents that could reveal sources.

These cases have spurred significant action from Australia’s Right to Know coalition (made up of all major media organisations) to launch a campaign challenging secrecy in Australia and pushing for greater press freedom and greater accountability for governments seeking to suppress information.