CROSS MEDIA OWNERSHIP
Mr. Denmore writes Labor strategists are now seriously contemplating how to deal with the ferocious campaign against the new Government’s legitimacy.
However, we have to wonder if we brought this on ourselves? There was at least one man that saw this coming.
Extracts from Peter Andren speaking in Parliament.
26 June, 2003.
Mr ANDREN (Calare) (6.21 p.m.) – In speaking on the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2002, firstly, I must comment on some of the earlier amendments. I am glad to see at least a minimum level of material of local significance being legislated for rural and regional areas, although the ABA’s new requirements, certainly in the point score that they have arrived at, will mean a diminution, a lessening, of localism in the existing stations. I do not think it is going to deliver anything like what has been claimed. The government’s response to these particular amendments completely betrays its motives with this legislation. The government will eventually have to lay this bill aside because it has not achieved what it set out to do. The amendment initiated by Independent senator Brian Harradine succeeded in flushing out just what this bill was all about, that it is a Murdoch-Packer amendment. By wisely amending this bill to preclude newspaper owners from operating a television station in the same capital city, the legislation quite rightly prevents News Ltd from picking up a television station, say, Channel 10, and the Packer organisation from also gaining control of perhaps the Sydney Morning Herald. That, quite frankly, would be a good outcome. The Senate in its wisdom, led by Senator Harradine, has recognised that. I understand there was a reference in question time today to my contribution to the second reading debate on this legislation. Let me remind the House of what I said, because it is absolutely crucial to these proposed amendments.
Let me share with the House some of my media experiences that go back to the late 1960s, when I first joined Channel 7 Sydney, which was then owned by the Fairfax organisation, along with 2GB. For much of my time as a reporter, I was not based at the Epping studios; I was working out of the Channel 7 office in the Herald building on Broadway in downtown Sydney. Next door was the office of 2GB. Part of my duties was to wander around to the Sydney Morning Herald or the Sun news desk and pick up the ‘blacks’, as they were called-the carbon copy of the Sun or Herald news copy that had been filed by the Fairfax reporters. This was taken back to the office and sent by an early version of the fax machine to Epping, where it would become the basis for the reporter or newsreader voiceover of television stories.
Other stories were rewritten and used as read-only TV stories. The same process was followed by the 2GB reporter next door; the only difference was that the bulletin was read from a radio studio within the Macquarie news office in the Herald building. The Sydney Sun’s lead story became the Macquarie news lead story on the hour during the week, with the Sun-Herald and Herald providing the stories at the weekend. Not only was the Fairfax editorial material being used by the other two media but there was a direct and daily link between senior Fairfax executives and the news editor at Channel 7.
And no doubt 2GB. I continued:
A few years later I worked at Channel 9, where Kerry Packer exerted a direct and at times hands-on influence on the content of news bulletins – as a producer, I was personally involved in several of those events -particularly at politically sensitive times-almost invariably sensitive to conservative political interests. I can remember several occasions when Mr Packer exercised a direct influence over editorial policy. It is a nonsense to suggest that that sort of influence would not be exerted across a stable of media interests if it were deemed politically expedient, as was the case during the 1975 federal election campaign.
That is what I said in my speech during the second reading. Senator Harradine has rightly said that the key amendment is ‘to protect against media proprietors having undue influence’, particularly in a city, by owning both a TV licence and a newspaper in that city. The lessons of the sixties, seventies and eighties are clear.
Senator Harradine has recognised that. By claiming that it will not negotiate on this central aspect of its bill, the government gives the game away. This is about restoring city media control to that which I have outlined existed in my days at Channel 7 and Channel 9.
I would also amend this bill to include regional media under the same regime. The control by a regional newspaper, invariably Rural Press, of one local television station, despite the existence of commercial radio and perhaps another TV outlet, is still too great a concentration of control over the editorial material disseminated in the viewing area. I strongly support these amendments and urge the Senate to extend them to regional newspaper and television holdings as well.
Mr ANDREN (Calare) (8.44 p.m.) – I rise to object to the government’s motion to reject certain of the Senate amendments to the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2002 and to refer my earlier comments, which were delivered in the debate on the earlier amendments, to these particular amendments. A lot has been said about growth in the media, and I have just taken part in a debate on that very matter. Growth seems to be the driving agenda in this process. As I said, there certainly will be growth under this legislation.
There will be growth in influence, growth in concentration of ownership-as the member for Melbourne has just said-growth in political influence and growth in the largesse that is afforded to those in politics who comply with the wishes of the media moguls.
We only have to look at the foreign ownership regime in commercial regional radio to see that we have not only the princes of print and the queens of the screen but also the rajahs of radio in regional and, indeed, other parts of Australia. The foreign owners show no or very little interest in localism in those markets. I pointed out earlier the hubbing and spoking and concentration of common editorial processes across those radio stations and the diminution in relevance of a lot of the content. You hear community service announcements or weather reports at 11 o’clock at night telling you what the day you have just spent will be like. That is how bizarre it is and how cost cutting their processes are.
It is a fact that 80 per cent of people in this country get their major news from TV and newspapers. That is not going to change in a hurry. So how cute is it that we have legislation here that would allow the concentration of that amalgamation of TV and newspaper? As I pointed out, we will see yet again-as we saw in the sixties-the spread of editorial influence across radio, TV and newspaper holdings. The amendment to deny a cross-media exemption certificate to TV and newspaper operators owning in common those two media is to be applauded.
While other elements of these amendments-such as editorial oversight by a board-are nonsensical, so too is the claimed separation of editorial independence that is written into the original bill. There is no way in the world that you can sustain editorial independence if you have, say, Rural Press running a radio station or, indeed, a television station in country New South Wales. I cite the example of a push at the moment by the chemical companies for commercial releases of genetically modified food. An issue like that could well be driven by commercial considerations. Unless we have locally based media, reactive to local criticism and local influences and tapping into the opinion of the grassroots farmers, in this case, and others, then we do not have the truth coming through. We have a distorted message that says: ‘This is going to be all right. Get used to it, because it is going to happen.’ As all these amendments are being dealt with together, I certainly support them all and totally reject the government’s motion to oppose them.
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