Murdoch schmoozes Canberra

TONGUES are wagging in media and political circles after it emerged that the News Corp boss, Rupert Murdoch, paid a visit to Julia Gillard on Thursday.

Mr Murdoch, who usually has politicians visit him, went to Canberra for a meeting in Ms Gillard's Parliament House office.

Yesterday afternoon, Mr Murdoch met the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, in Sydney.

Mr Murdoch's visit represented a potential thaw in relations with Labor, which is at daggers drawn with his newspaper The Australian. Primarily, the visit has been linked to a series of media policy decisions about to be announced.

When Mr Murdoch was in Australia in February, he pointedly had breakfast in Sydney with Mr Abbott, but did not meet the then prime minister, Kevin Rudd. Soon after that breakfast, Mr Abbott criticised the $250 million in licence fee rebate reductions the government granted free-to-air television stations, suggesting they were bribes in return for favourable election-year coverage.

When Parliament resumes in a fortnight, the government will introduce legislation for changes to the anti-siphoning laws which dictate the screening of sporting events on pay TV and free TV.

The laws are expected to favour the free TV stations in so far as they will allow them to televise live sport on their digital channels. At the moment, they can televise sport only if it is on their main channel.

In a sop to pay TV, it is expected some sports on the anti-siphoning list will be taken off so pay TV can bid for the rights to televise them. News Ltd is a part owner of Foxtel.

The industry is also awaiting a decision from the government as to whether it will put out to tender the provision of the Australia TV network which broadcast to the Asia-Pacific region.

The service is presently provided by the ABC.