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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23386


Mr ANDREN (8:15 PM) —I move amendment (1):

At the end of the Bill, add:

(1) Schedule 3 - Editorial Separation

Broadcasting Services Act 1992

1 After subclause 7(4) of Schedule 2

Add:

(5) Each commercial television broad-casting licence is also subject to the condition that the licensee will have, in relation to any other holder of a commercial broadcasting licence in the same licence area:

(a) separate editorial news manage-ment;

(b) separate news compilation processes; and

(c) separate news gathering and news interpre-tation capabilities.

2 After subclause 8(3)(d)(iii) of Schedule 2

Add:

(4) Each commercial radio broadcasting licence is also subject to the condition that the licensee will have, in relation to any other holder of a commer-cial broadcasting licence in the same licence area;

(a) separate editorial news manage-ment;

(b) separate news compilation processes; and

(c) separate news gathering and news interpre-tation capabilities.

This amendment goes right to the heart of broadcasting of this country. Indeed, it specifically addresses moves we have seen in recent days by the 2UE and 2GB organisations to effectively merge their newsrooms and create a corporate entity that will provide news and other services to both licensees. Ironically, they are allegedly in mortal combat over their talkback programming but not, it would appear, in that most traditional of areas, the provision of news to the Sydney market. I can only say that the late Brian White would turn in his grave at the moves that have occurred here, and the Mark Colliers of this world and other former news editors at 2UE would be similarly surprised.

These two fine news institutions—in a commercial sense—have for many years provided news of the highest quality to the Sydney market and to affiliates right around Australia. We now see a move by the operators of those stations to quite cynically circumvent the existing legislation and provide a merged news service to each licensee. Whilst it is not in contravention of the Broadcasting Services Act as it stands, it certainly contravenes the spirit of the act and flies in the face of the rhetoric we have heard from this government about the cross-media ownership bill and how it is going to provide not only diversity of ownership but also separation—I think that is the word that has been used—of editorial policy. I pointed out in my speech during the second reading debate, using my 25 years experience in broadcasting before coming here, just what nonsense that is.

This amendment is to the existing act, as it stands. It is in no way related, except by chance, to the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2002 [No. 2] that we have been debating here for the second time in recent months. The amendment goes to the heart of the existing broadcasting act. I know that Deputy Speaker Lindsay, shifting in his chair, is also well aware of the ramifications of this move by 2UE and 2GB, with his experience in broadcasting. So I move this amendment to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. The first part of the amendment seeks to add at the end of the bill, after clause 7(4) of schedule 2:

(5) Each commercial television broad-casting licence is also subject to the condition that the licensee will have, in relation to any other holder of a commercial broadcasting licence in the same licence area:

(a) separate editorial news manage-ment;

(b) separate news compilation processes; and

(c) separate news gathering and news interpre-tation capabilities.

The second part of the amendment is text to be inserted after clause 8(3)(d)(iii) of schedule 2 of the existing bill. It is essentially of the same tenor, but it is directed at commercial radio broadcasting licence holders, subject to the conditions that I have detailed in the first part of the amendment.

According to Tony Bell of 2UE and John Singleton of 2GB, they are looking at ways of combining the back office infrastructure of their operations, including news, administration, finance and IT functions. I would like to remind those gentlemen that their licences are a privilege, not a right to do what they like in a commercial sense. From a news perspective, it is about the front office of a licensed provider of news and information providing the most balanced and independent news that the licensee can to his particular market.

Before the amendments to the act in 1992, what was previously required was comprehensive localism—I think that was the term—for each licence area. (Extension of time granted) Each licensee had to provide independent localism to its licence area. That was changed to licensees having to contribute to localism within their markets. That in no way excuses this government from acting against the moves that we have seen 2UE's Southern Cross and 2GB's Macquarie Radio Network take in recent days. If it transpires that this is the outcome of circumventing the act by creating this separate entity, then there is nothing to prevent the licensees in 18 regional radio markets from doing the same—for example, the market in Orange or, as I said earlier when the member for Hinkler was in the House, Bundaberg.

The minister mentioned in his summing up that I mentioned Bundaberg as one of the places where under the cross-media rules it would be possible to create arrangements outside the act, and he said that was not so. If he reads carefully what I was saying in my speech in the second reading debate he will find I was referring specifically to the 18 market areas where there are two commercial licensees who will be able to undertake exactly the same arrangement that 2UE and 2GB have brought into being. What will that mean for the markets of Orange, Dubbo, Bundaberg, Wollongong, Newcastle and Canberra and so on in terms of the provision of independent news? It means that we will already have, before the cross-media legislation even gets to base 1—let alone is passed—a situation where these regulations can be easily circumvented. Who is the architect of all of this? Macquarie chairman Sam Chisholm, former CEO of Channel 9 and one who worked to the beckoning of Kerry Packer, no less. I want to put on the record some of the comments that were made by others around this issue. Chris Warren, from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, said:

Those two networks have really dominated commercial radio news throughout the country.

As I said, they have got a proud record! He continued:

The loss of this sort of diversity really requires the Australian Broadcasting Authority to intervene ...

The ABA, under the existing legislation as I read it—and I would be interested in the minister's comments on this—cannot intervene. There are no laws to prevent it. We have to pass this amendment to ensure that this arrangement cannot happen. A senior 2UE staffer said:

It's like premier Bob Carr and opposition leader John Brogden moving into the same office and sharing the same press secretary.

Singleton said that the plan would save `millions' in both infrastructure costs and job cuts which have not yet been determined. Whoopee! With this proposal we will have what will occur under the cross-media rules if they are passed: further concentration, loss of jobs, loss of training opportunities, loss of divergence and ultimately a loss of control of the agenda out there on a range of issues—particularly those affecting regional Australia. I can think of the genetic modification of food issue as an issue on which certain elements of the media are pushing the line that is being promoted by the larger companies, to the detriment of and in the face of the adamant opposition of most farmers that I find in my neck of the woods. Laws, from 2UE, and Mike Carlton have criticised the plan, while analysts—market analysts, that is; not media analysts—have welcomed it. What about their independent news format? What about the sort of copy that Carlton or Laws—or, indeed, Jones—would use to bounce off as they begin their commentary in the morning? Same copy, same stories, same spin. How independent is that?

I would urge the minister to heed the comments made by the Parliamentary Library in a brief to me on this. While saying the arrangement would not appear to be in breach of the Broadcasting Services Act, that act states that a person must not be in a position to exercise control. The arrangement certainly creates a situation where the control of news is shifted to an entity that would provide hybrid and one-dimensional news. I urge the House to support this amendment. (Time expired)