Media's poor need a leg up too


The Federal Government is having to justify its seemingly scandalous $250 million 'gift' to Australia's free to air television networks Seven, Nine and Ten.

Earlier this month, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced that the Government will 'protect Australian content on commercial television' by offering licence fee rebates to broadcasters in 2010 and 2011. The rationale for the grant has been overshadowed by its reporting in the context of news of the Minister's US ski-slopes meeting with Seven boss Kerry Stokes.

Media observers have known for a while that technologies such as Internet (or 'IP') TV will make a train wreck of television as we know it, and that Australian content is likely to be a major casualty. New media's challenge for radio is similar. Minister Conroy spoke of the implications of the converging media environment in his media release earlier this month:

'New media platforms are bringing a wealth of choice to Australian viewers, but the Government recognises that Australian television broadcasters have an important role in ensuring that Australian stories remain at the centre of our viewing experience.'

In calling the money a 'bribe' for favourable election coverage, the Federal Opposition is missing the point, showing that it does not understand new media. A more apt response would be to question details such an the unevenness of such assistance — why commercial free-to-air networks have received such a generous concession while other affected sectors have been short-changed.

It is true there was a Government funding increase for the ABC and SBS in the 2009–10 Budget to protect Australian content on the national broadcasters. But one important sector that has received little assistance is the community broadcasters. Community television and radio were given digital spectrum and modest conversion grants only late last year, clearly as an afterthought. Yet they remain an important source of Australian, and genuinely local, content.

Regular city-based local programming on free-to-air commercial television amounts to little more than advertisements and the evening news (except Ten's weekend news which is national). In contrast, most of the programming of community TV, and especially radio, is generated by the stations themselves and reflects the unique interests and concerns of those who live in their cities. Moreover local content is not dependent upon ratings or commercial values.

Community media is poor, but it is arguably the most faithful media representation of the grass roots of the community. It is marginal in terms of promotion, but the size of its audience is much more significant than many would imagine. A Community Broadcasting Association survey last year revealed that 57 per cent of Australians listen to community radio in any given month.

Perhaps it's time we heard reports of Minister Conroy playing pool at the local pub with a community radio station manager.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Conroy, Stokes, commercial TV, free to air, new media, digital tv, community radio, community TV



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Existing comments

Strange that commercial media operators receive a huge handout from the Federal Government and yet ordinary Australian citizens cannot access Centrelink benefits because of their tight stingy income test requirements. Maybe I will become a media mogul too and get a piece of the action.
Terry Steve | 22 February 2010

This note is not to disagree with Michael Mullins. Community media is important and should be properly funded.

But I want to point out that the ABC is not faring as well as it might appear either. With the exception of local drama, the extra funding in the 2009-10 Budget was for new initiatives (i.e., not to rebuild the ABC which has been run down over many years). And a significant amount of that funding will go to the private production sector, to which the ABC is now outsourcing all of its local drama production and much of its new children's television channel content.

In other words, the agenda of the previous government, of privatising the ABC through the back door, continues.
Glenys Stradijot - Friends of the ABC (Vic) | 28 February 2010


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