Our substantially foreign-owned free to air commercial TV industry has been given a multi million dollar bonus: permission to broadcast an extra minute of political advertising per hour in primetime during the forthcoming federal election campaign. The media regulator, ACMA, agreed to the networks’ request for a clarification of the guidelines with this decision yesterday.

Under the existing code, broadcasting this additional minute would have breached restrictions requiring an average 15 minutes of advertising per hour across primetime (from 6pm to midnight), which applied without distinction between election and non-election periods. With the ad market booming and revenue rising at 6% to 8% at the moment, the commercial networks wanted ACMA to remove the averaging requirement, so they wouldn’t have to cut back non-political ads.

Now each of the commercial networks can run 42 minutes of extra advertising each week of the campaign. Over the course of a 33 day campaign that’s an extra 500 minutes or more of ads, which at a conservative rate of $40,000 to $50,000 a minute ($20,000 to $25,000 a 30 second spot) could mean an extra $20 million to $25 million of revenue between the networks.

“Based on the evidence provided from (public) submissions, there was no strong view that the proposed amendment would result in a lessening of community safeguards during an election period,” ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman said.

And there is no sign that ACMA tried to negotiate with the networks to drop promos for their own programs to allow the extra advertising to be carried without disturbing the 15 minute maximum.

ACMA should have called their bluff and refused to modify the Code of Practice and forced the networks to act like grown up businessman and choose between self interest and self promotion. But it has allowed the networks, foreign controlled or part-owned as they are, to have their promotional cake, and the extra revenue as well.