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Murdoch Group To Lobby Backbench MPs Over Digital TV

News Limited, the Murdoch company that publishes The Australian, is planning to direct mail hundreds of thousands of leaflets in coalition held marginal seats in an effort to lobby the government over digital television policy.

Federal Cabinet is due to debate the issue on Monday, the same day as the campaign is scheduled to start. Previously, the government allocated high definition television (HDTV) rights to the existing free-to-air broadcasters, including the ABC.

Companies such as News Limited argue that HDTV will be too expensive for consumers – television sets currently cost in excess of $3000 – and that the government should opt for a cheaper form of digital television and allow more datacasting, online shopping and the like.

Due to the tight party discipline that exists within the Australian parliamentary system, it is rare for such an intensive lobbying campaign to be directed at backbench members of parliament. In the United States such lobbying is commonplace, indeed rampant, given the separation of the Executive branch from Congress.

Ordinarily, a company like News Limited would use professional lobbyists or someone like its political strategist, Grahame Morris, who used to be John Howard’s Chief of Staff until he was sacked during the 1997 Travel Rorts scandal.

Intense Lobbying of MPs Over Digital TV

Paul Neville, NPA, HinklerThe Age reports today that Federal MPs, especially those on the policy committee advising the Communications Minister, Senator Richard Alston, are being lobbied by media and communications companies in the leadup to a Cabinet decision about which digital television policy model should be adopted.

Paul Neville, the chairman of the Communications Committee, is quoted as saying “this is the most intense lobbying campaign of politicians I have ever seen since I have been a Member of Parliament.”

Current government policy aims for all free-to-air broadcasters to commence digital broadcasting in metropolitan areas on 1 January 2001. The Age says there is concern that the Cabinet is committed to a model that will put the new generation of television sets beyond the means of most consumers.