The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has found that Bruce Gordon, the owner of WIN Corporation, breached media control and diversity rules in relation to his interests in the Prime Media Group Limited (Prime).
The ACMA found that Gordon acquired a 11.59 per cent shareholding in Prime on 29 April 2019. Together with his existing 14.99 per cent interest, Gordon’s total company interests rose to 26.58 per cent. This placed Gordon in a position to exercise control of commercial television licenses held by subsidiaries of Prime until 24 May 2019, when Gordon divested 43 million shares (11.73 per cent).
Gordon was found to be in breach of the “one-to-a-market” commercial television license rule in eight separate license areas during this time. Gordon’s interests also caused an unacceptable media diversity situation to occur, or to be worsened, in more than 40 license areas.
“Media control and diversity rules exist so that Australians have access to a diverse range of voices in the media landscape. It is up to companies and individuals to ensure that they comply with these important rules at all times, especially where control occurs in more complex shareholding arrangements,” said ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin.
The ACMA considered evidence from Gordon that the breaches occurred as a result of actions taken by a third party that were contrary to his instructions and that, as a result, he could not reasonably have known that he was in breach of media laws. The ACMA also noted that Gordon acted immediately to sell down his shareholding in Prime as soon as he became aware of the mistake.
Finally, the ACMA found no evidence to suggest that Gordon took any actual steps to exercise control over Prime during this period.
“Given the limited duration of the breaches and our satisfaction with the action to rectify the breaches, the ACMA will not take any further action on this matter,” O’Loughlin said.
Under the Broadcasting Services Act, a person is deemed to be in control of a media asset when they acquire in excess of 15 per cent of a company which holds that asset. This is regardless of whether they can exert actual control over the asset, which is a separate test.