Australian Greens' Additional Comments
The Greens are on the record condemning the decision made by
the government to impose an arbitrary timeframe for examining these bills.
The Greens depart strongly from the Committee’s comment that the debate through
the Convergence and Finkelstein reviews on media reform issues can be applied
to this package which represents slim pickings indeed from those comprehensive
reports and detailed recommendations. It is extraordinary for such important
bills to be rushed, for witnesses to be given virtually no notice but expected
to produce submissions and provide evidence, and for the good will and
expertise of Committee secretariats to be abused quite as they have in this
Some of the proposals and measures in these bills have real
merit and can easily stand up to close examination. Others measures contained
in the bills need to be amended to properly achieve the objective of
strengthening an independent press that adheres to basic standards.
As Mr Finkelstein stated, these bills have ‘a relatively minor
imposition on press freedom and probably no restriction on free speech,’ and
that, “most of the topics dealt with in the legislation are covered by existing
codes of conduct.” The Australian Greens believe very strongly that freedom of
the press and effective and accessible media and communications systems are
integral to the functioning of a successful democratic society. We also
believe that media diversity in content and format is a right of all
It is in the public interest, and it is in the interest of a
flourishing and free press that further concentration of media ownership in
Australia is prevented. Australia’s is the most concentrated in the western
world. We have a problem in Australia; it is recognised globally.
The Bills establish a public interest test for major changes
of media ownership based on the threshold of 30% of an average metro commercial
TV evening news audience.
The Greens believe that the public interest test needed more
definition. We believe that it needs to be clearer that there is a public
interest case for content services, including news services, to not be
diminished as a result of mergers and acquisitions. We believe that local news
should not be diminished, and that editorial independence of media operations
should not be threatened by any future media mergers or acquisitions. We
believe amendments should be made to more clearly articulate just exactly what
a public interest test would be trying to protect, for example, whether the
transaction will diminish the range of content services, whether the
transaction will diminish the production of news at the local level, the impact
on editorial independence is vital to protect, as is freedom of opinion and the
fair and accurate presentation of news.
Establishing a press standards model for an independent
self-funded self-regulatory body is not diminishing press freedom in this
country. We believe that a regulatory race to the bottom should be avoided and
that the Australian media landscape would not benefit from a proliferation of
press councils, however we have no objection to an independent, self-funded
body setting press standards.
The problem these bills are trying to address is the actual
implementation of the standards set by the industry itself. A representatives
from Fairfax recognised that there is no doubt that, ‘people may not have been
happy about the performance of the Press Council.” The Press Council is failing
to apply appropriate redress, despite improvements in recent years. The Bills
attempt to find a path to find incentives for journalists and publications to
adhere to their own standards.
The Bills also establish a part time Public Interest Media
Advocate who would apply both a Public Interest Test and have a role in
accrediting the Press Council or its successor organisation. That is, the PIMA
would not be able to dictate content appearing in Australian newspapers. The
PIMA would be independent, and at arm’s length of government.
The Bills amend the ABC Charter to protect digital media
services and to include an indigenous representative on the SBS Board – both
overdue reforms which are very much welcomed by the Greens.
The Greens also welcome that the Australia Network will be
kept in public hands which is consistent with Australia’s national interests.
The Australia Network shapes perceptions of Australia and its relationship with
nations in the region and globally. Keeping the Australia Network in public
hands is also consistent with the practice of every other country that provides
international broadcasting services, including Britain’s BBC World Service, the
Voice of America and Germany’s Deutsche Welle.
The ABC is independent of government but accountable to
parliament and the public through statutory transparency obligations. The ABC
regards its audience as citizens, not consumers and through the Australia
Network extends that respect to neighbours in the region. The ABC has a
statutory responsibility to provide independent news and has a proven record in
The Greens are very concerned that Australian content
standards be improved and that Australia’s actors, writers, producers,
directors, and technical skills are maintained and nurtured. These bills
stipulates Australian content across multichannels of 730 hours in 2013, 1095
hours in 2014 and 1460 hours from 2015 onwards that includes sport and repeats
in return for 50% reduction in TV licensing fees. The Greens do not agree that
Australian content quota hours should be spread across the multichannels, and
we are not satisfied that repeats and sport count towards the number of hours.
We attempted to amend the bills in the House of Representatives to double the
number of Australian content hours.
The Greens welcome spectrum allocation for Community TV as
announced by the Minister; however this is not explicitly outlined in the
Bills, and the Greens will ensure that this is acknowledged in debate.
The Community TV sector provides a great deal of local
Australian content through 80 community TV licenses reaching over 3.6 million
Australians. The community broadcasting sector has developed over 40 years to
represent a significant contribution to media diversity, social inclusion,
cultural diversity, media & technical skills development and participatory
democracy in the Australian broadcasting sector. The sector engages 23,000
volunteers, with more than 70% of TV and Radio broadcasting stations located in
rural, regional and remote areas providing a highly diverse range of services
including cultural and specialist talks programming, alternative news and
views, music of all genres, Indigenous, print handicapped, religious, ethnic
and multicultural, youth, educational and community access services.
Community television has struggled to survive for over the
last 25 years with virtually zero funding support to their operations. There is
now some level of transmission support and $300,000 per year to cover hundreds
of community television programs produced for CTV stations. CTV urgently
requires a higher level of funding support to develop in a convergent media
As the two days of inquiry into these bills have revealed,
the functions and social purpose of journalism goes beyond the form of delivery
– whether that be online, via a newspaper, on the radio waves or on free to air
or pay TV. Witnesses to this inquiry and commentary on it have discussed the
role of a free press in a democracy to inform citizenry.
The debate around reforming the media is highly relevant. It
needs to be based on facts, rather than alarmist fears. The Greens believe that
citizens require more than just information. Disaggregated facts or news that
is shortened, disconnected and designed to be quickly consumed is not enough in
a democratic society where citizens are making informed decisions about urgent
policy questions of the day.
The commercial media is certainly part of a market, but in
order to fulfil its role as a public service in a flourishing democracy, it
needs to earn some of the spectrum it gets – a public good – at discount prices
or other forms of support, by providing relevant quality journalism, analysis
of complexities and in depth reporting that is relevant to people’s lives in
their geographical location.
This week, the British Parliament has finally passed media
reforms, creating new mechanisms for independent self-regulation of the British
press – backed up by statutory recognition. That is exactly what is proposed
here in Australia – independence backed up by legislation. The regulator in the
UK will be able to call for apologies and corrections and in the cases where a
wrong has been done will be able to issue fines. These are basic standards to
which media organisations should be able to easily abide in the UK and here in
Senator Scott Ludlam
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