Murdoch eyes TV bid as Australia gets ready to relax ownership rules

Rupert Murdoch's aspiration to add a television network to his Australian media portfolio has received a fillip from the country's recent election results.

The freshly re-elected right-wing government is likely to gain control of both houses of parliament and is gearing up to push through controversial reforms which will relax cross-media ownership laws.

The most likely target of Mr Murdoch's News Corporation is the Ten Network, a terrestrial TV channel. But it could make a bid for the Seven Network.

In April, Mr Murdoch said he would continue to lobby for the media ownership reforms despite his plans to shift his media empire's headquarters to the US.

David Mantell, an analyst with Loop Capital Markets in Chicago, said such an acquisition "strategically makes sense".

"It would appear to fit News Corp's dual content and distribution strategy - and increase its share of the strong advertising market in Australia," said Mr Mantell.

Mr Murdoch had previously acquired control of an earlier incarnation of Ten but had to divest his stake once he became a US citizen.

Ten's executive chairman, Nick Falloon, said this week that Canadian group CanWest, which owns 56.6 per cent of the station, would dilute its stake for the right deal. Ten had already entered talks with potential partners, he said.

Australia's communications minister, Helen Coonan, said that the government would push ahead with its media reforms, which have already been watered down once by the senate.

The government is likely to take control of the senate when the new term starts in mid-2005. But it may give priority to the full privatisation of telecom provider Telstra so that it can participate in any media rationalisation.

Another media mogul, Kerry Packer, is also expected to take advantage of the reforms and may launch a bid for newspaper group John Fairfax, publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald.

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