Monday, 20 August 2018
Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Foreign Media Ownership and Community Radio) Bill 2017; Second Reading
I fear that, when we distil our media voices down to a select few, we jeopardise that common humanity that unites us as Australians. We risk accepting infotainment ahead of robust, independent journalism. We risk losing access to analysis from commentators from different points on the political compass. We risk knowledge. We risk truth. We risk the dumbing down of our nation. I fear that the Turnbull government would love a media landscape where it was not called out and not called to account by the media—a media landscape where a friendly press did nothing more than regurgitate press releases and ask Dorothy Dixers. But that's not what real journalist do. It's no secret that this government has waged all-out war on the ABC and SBS, subjecting them to ever-shrinking budgets, efficiency reviews and consistently objecting to or intervening in editorial policy. How can we let this happen? It benefits no-one. How can we allow news to become propaganda? That's what will happen if we silence the ABC, SBS and Fairfax. This assault from the Turnbull government on our most robust media companies is not just a war of ideology; it has human casualties.
In the Hunter region and the area of Paterson that I represent, the ABC news rooms have been gutted. Fairfax has been cut to its very bone. Just last month, we received the sad news that the internationally acclaimed Fairfax printing press in Beresfield, which lies in my electorate of Paterson and employs around 70 people, will close in mid-September. The media people affected are people who, in their own way, serve our community, as I do. Many of those affected are my former professional peers. As many people might know, in my former life, I was a television and radio presenter. Television, I admit, was a long time ago—in the late eighties and early nineties. When my employer at the time—the great NBN Television, which had been owned by the Lamb family—was aggregated with Channel 9, it was the start of many big changes across the media landscape.
This brings me to my position on the amendment requested by the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, which is part of the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Foreign Media Ownership and Community Radio) Bill 2017 that I speak on. There's a self-promoting radio advertisement that I keep thinking about in relation to this bill. It says that radio is word-of-mouth, and so it is. It's a two-way conversation. Long before journalists were being trolled on Twitter or there were articles being dissected in great Facebook comments, there was talkback radio. That was my bread-and-butter for over a decade. I was a local woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter and a businessperson. I pursued local issues through local channels and I spoke with lots and lots of local people. My listeners were able to call in and have their say. It truly was a two-way conversation. One of the most endearing memories I have of working in talkback radio was an elderly lady who phoned me one day and said: 'Meryl, I feel like you're my daughter. You're in my kitchen every morning when I put the kettle on. I often tell you what I think, and some weeks you're the only person who I actually speak to.' Radio is an incredibly personal medium, and community radio is perhaps the most personal of this very personal medium.
In the ever-changing media landscape, more and more radio newsrooms are being pared back. Content is being syndicated and shared. That local flavour is becoming more and more watered-down. Listeners are losing that channel of connectivity. In doing so, they're losing that sense of being part of a close-knit community—of sharing common goals, hopes, fears, dreams, gripes and loves. They are the things that unite us regardless of income, colour or culture. They are the things that help us appreciate difference and feel empathy for those who we share our streets and communities with.
I am agreeing not to oppose the broadcasting legislation amendment, but in doing so I note that the community broadcasting peak body, the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, has requested an amendment to the bill to help ensure we keep the 'community' in 'community radio'. The amendment will encourage more local issues, more local talent and more local jobs producing and hosting. It will do so by requiring the Australian Communications and Media Authority to provide new assessment criteria for applications for and renewals of community radio broadcasting licences. These criteria will relate to material of local significance, and work to ensure our radio services match the community's expectations.
The amendment I'm supporting would clarify the language around these criteria. They will create a definitive link between the amendment, the local content requirement and the assessment tools used when considering which licence applications and renewals are progressed. The proposed amendment would see the rewording of section 84(2)(b)(a) to read, 'In the case of a community radio broadcast licence—the extent to which the proposed service or services would provide material relevant to local communities and the community interest served by the licence.' It would also insert a new subsection, 84(3), that specifies that material will be considered of local significance if it is hosted in or produced in or relates to the licence area of the proposed licence. We believe that this amended wording will ensure that the Australian Communications and Media Authority's implementation of the new criteria will match the government's intention to strengthen localism in community radio broadcasting. This in turn will give the sector more certainty. Every sector of every industry needs certainty to attract investment and talent, and to continue to thrive.
I just want to add that, in community radio, localism is so important. Being a local host, having your finger on the local pulse is such an important thing. I do want to give a shout out to 2NURFM, my most recent employer. I, in fact, volunteered at that radio station and was fortunate enough to be offered a full, paying position as well. I love that station. Although it is a community radio station run out of the University of Newcastle, it is as professional as any media organisation in Australia could be and has the listening audience to prove it.
Our community broadcasting sector needs all the help it can get right now. This amendment and its small piece of certainty may be some comfort. Certainty is something that has been, sadly, lacking in recent times. The Prime Minister and his government have offered nothing of the sort—no certainty around funding, and no certainty of access to spectrum for community television either. The bill is not, however, any substitute for the void left in the media landscape last year, when the Turnbull government and One Nation repealed the two-out-of-three cross-media control rule.
We are a big country but a fairly small nation, with just around 25 million of us. Even before the Turnbull government's 2017 move, we had one of the most concentrated media markets in the world. Now we risk even greater homogenisation of media voices and narrowing of diversity. This is not good for any of us, no matter where you sit on the political spectrum. It is not good, and I appeal to this government to really think through the ramifications of what it's done.
While I choose not to oppose the bill, I place on the record my disgust at this government's backroom machinations with One Nation, which allowed the government to navigate the damaging repeal of the two-of-out-three cross-media control rule. I say to you: diversity in the media, truth in reporting and truly good questioning of all of our judgements and values is the only way we stand to live in a nation that is worthy of good representation and good governance.