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Mar 1, 2016

Could Ricky Muir force the ABC to air the Bathurst 1000?

Senator Bridget McKenzie's private member's bill would dictate how the ABC covers rural and regional Australia -- and The Australia Institute says that is a very dangerous precedent.



A bill being proposed by Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie that seeks to force the ABC to air more bulletins in regional areas sets a dangerous precedent of allowing political parties to dictate the content priorities of the public broadcaster, The Australia Institute says.

The left-wing think tank, in a submission to an inquiry on the bill, notes the Nationals’ rural constituents would be the key beneficiaries. TAI posits a future where a Labor government could mandate coverage of industrial issues, the Greens could require coverage of the environment, and the Motoring Enthusiast’s Party “could push for compulsory coverage of the Bathurst 1000 car race to be included in the Charter”. The submission states:

“While increasing regional content is a worthwhile goal, and one with popular support, a change to the Charter is not the best way to achieve this goal. The Charter must remain open to interpretation by the ABC Board and management. It is not the place to make specific programming decisions. Doing so would reduce the ability of the ABC to respond to the ever evolving media environment and place its future relevance and popularity at risk.”

McKenzie’s private member’s bill, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Rural and Regional Advocacy) Bill 2015aims to force the ABC to focus staff and resources on rural and regional Australia through a range of explicit requirements on rural staffing, corporate governance and programming. It also mandates the ABC must broadcast “at least 5 radio bulletins that consist solely or primarily of regional or local news” between 5am and 8pm, and to base two of its directors in rural and regional Australia.

The bill has been welcomed by many rural and regional councils, many of whom have written submissions in explicit support of McKenzie’s concerns and view the bill as a way to address what they see as a paucity of ABC rural programming. For example, Andrew Curnow, the Anglican Bishop of Bendigo, writes that the latest changes to regional programming “show very little indication that the senior management is in touch with the scattered and rural communities of Central and North Western Victoria”.

But national organisations have taken a rather more critical view of the proposals.

Viewer lobby group Friends of the ABC, which is always happy to protest against the ABC’s direction, states in its submission that it does “not agree with specific mandated targets, reports, number of regional programs to ensure rural and provincial quotas as we think that the issue is simply resolved by an improved Charter and by the requirement for the ABC Board and Management without Governmental interference to fulfil, in the interests of all Australians, what is actually set down in that Charter”.

Media union the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance wrote that the bill’s objectives “cannot be supported without the guarantee of additional protected funding”.

“It would be disingenuous to expect that an organisation can maintain all broadcast commitments when it is in the throes of extinguishing up to ten per cent of its employees.” Doing so, the union’s submission states, amounts to “operational favouritism”.

And anyway, the union continues, the crisis in rural media coverage is far greater than the ABC’s role, and is likely to be exacerbated by media regulation changes announced by the government last week. The union says that without safeguards, the media changes “further threaten local content and the diversity of opinion available to regional and rural residents”.

The ABC is currently in negotiations over its triennial funding round, the outcome of which will be announced in the budget. The organisation has requested around $30 million a year in specific funding tied to regional programming, which would go primarily towards employing 100 more journalists. At Senate estimates earlier this month, managing director Mark Scott told the committee that approving such funding was one of the few things the government could do to directly counter the crisis in regional media:

“I would have thought that if you are really interested in local voices, local communities and local news then you would support a proposition for the ABC to be able to put more people on the ground to provide local broadcasting and local content, because that is the one sure lever — the one sure bet — that the government has to make a change in this environment.”

But McKenzie was unimpressed by Scott’s argument, saying the ABC was favouring things like ABC News Breakfast over addressing market failures:

“I want to know why you do not prioritise. Instead of coming to government asking for additional funds, why not prioritise what you are already given?”

The ABC’s submission to the inquiry has yet to be released.


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4 thoughts on “Could Ricky Muir force the ABC to air the Bathurst 1000?

  1. BergDonk

    We’ve made a submission to the enquiry, because we’d like to be able to receive ABC radio here, if for no ther reason than its our designated broadcaster. The guts of our submission follows FYIW:


    Sponsor(s): MCKENZIE, Sen Bridget
    Originating house: Senate
    Status: Before Senate
    Parliament no 44

    Amends the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 to: amend the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Charter in relation to the delivery of services to rural and regional Australia in each state and territory; impose certain requirements on the ABC and the ABC Board; and provide for the establishment, functions and membership of the Rural and Regional Advisory Council.

    The Numeralla and District Activities Incorporated (NDAI) represents the interests of the people of the Numeralla, Peak View, Carlaminda, Countegany & Tuross areas. The area covered varies in topography from grasslands to steep gorges. The topography therefore contributes towards the comparative difficulty for any emergency services and resident activity due to the topography. Reliance on adequate timely and appropriate information, especially from radio, is essential in this situation.

    Despite being only 22km from Cooma, widespread areas of Numeralla do not receive ABC radio (ABC 1602 AM and AMC 810). The area also has no mobile phone reception and, at the current time, some areas only receive internet via dial up or satellite. This means that ABC broadcasts, including Emergency Warnings are not received.

    NDAI’s main concern is the lack of adequate ABC radio coverage when considered within the context of a generally poor delivery of electronic communications throughout the area.

    NDAI notes the proposed amendments to the ABC Act and is somewhat concerned that comment from rural areas has not been more actively promoted and sought.

    In January 2013, the Numeralla area experienced the Yarrabin Bushfire. This fire was declared as a Section 44 fire under the NSW Rural Fires Act.

    During the Yarrabin fire the ABC radio issued emergency warnings the majority of which were unable to be received by the residents directly affected by the fire.
    “The issue of communication was raised at the meeting and police inspector Tony Hill said the agencies were aware of the problems with mobile phone and internet access.
    “Police were door knocking affected properties in the area on Monday and have continued to be in contact with the community throughout the crisis,” he said.
    Inspector Hill said emergency communications would be the topic of the first mulit agency recovery committee meeting when it was all over.”

    It is worthwhile noting the following Yarrabin log:-

    10:29AM: The NSWRFS is advising people in the Kybean Valley area to leave now and go to Nimmitabel township immediately.
    The bush fire burning near the Mount Forest Road, Carlaminda area is burning in a south easterly direction and has crossed over the Numeralla River in the direction of the Kybean Valley. It is expected to reach the Kybeyan area by about 2pm.
    Police are doorknocking homes in the area to advise them of the risk.
    Two Emergency Alert Telephone Warning messages have been sent to residents in the Mount Forest Road and Kybean Valley areas …

    9:37AM: NSWRFS says the bush fire burning in the Mount Forest Road Carlaminda area is currently impacting on properties in the area. It is now too late to leave…An Emergency Alert Telephone Warning message has been sent to residents in the area.

    In a submissions made to the Department of Communications in relation to the Mobile Coverage Programme Discussion Paper by the Hon Gary Nairn, attention was drawn not only to the lack of mobile phone communication but also to “… ABC radio coverage is also extremely poor in this region [i.e. Yarrabin/Numeralla] “

    In 2009 there was a Section 44 fire declared to the north of Numeralla at Michelago., NSW Again, residents were unable to obtain any ABC radio information about the fire due to the lack of reception. NDAI is aware that this lack of reception was discussed with the ABC Regional Manager and covered by the Cooma-Monaro Express newspaper. There however, was no improvement to the service nor, as far as can be determined, any strategy to address the lack of ABC radio coverage.

    Most improvements to current technologies i.e. internet and mobile phone communication relate to access by larger rural towns and not the geographically dispersed rural residents. The lack of access to ABC radio for news, information, emergency warnings and entertainment does not seem to be addressed. In fact, major effort seems to be invested into improvement in internet services. Improvements to other forms of electronic communication is required for the transmission of news, current affairs, road warnings, stock reports, weather updates etc. into the area.
    Consideration also needs to be given that in an emergency situation, the supply of electricity can not be guaranteed. Therefore, it is essential to be able to receive radio reception through a portable radio i.e. not dependent on mains electricity. Notwithstanding, the lack of adequate ABC radio coverage for the area means that electricity supply or not, ABC radio is not received.
    The local community organisation, Numeralla and District Activities Inc., has made several representations to various working parties and enquiries throughout the years drawing attention to issues including poor communications throughout the area. NDAI’s efforts have had mixed success in realising tangible improvement to improving communication services. The fact remains however, that no action has been forthcoming to improve ABC radio reception throughout the area.
    Unfortunately, there is a perception throughout the general population that ABC radio has universal coverage across Australia. This is not the case. Additionally, the ABC is generally identified as the Emergency Warning body for rural areas. It is somewhat ironic therefore that in the overview of the Bill there is a para stating …”and to ensure that regional stations are staffed appropriately during natural disasters and emergencies.” In respect of ABC radio coverage to Numeralla and surrounding area this would mean no staff would need to be assigned.
    The lack of improvement to communications over the years raises real issue with the purpose and intent of Government Inquiries. Continual input to Government(s) with little to no improvement on the ground is somewhat disheartening when by comparison great improvements seem to be realised in the urban environment.
    The intent of this response is to draw attention to, and reinforce, the need for adequate communications, including ABC radio coverage, in and around the Numeralla area of NSW.

  2. grimace

    It’s a bit rich of Senator McKenzie to pontificate on regional issues and demand that the ABC have two directors living in regional areas when, as a a Nationals Senator and supposed representative of country people lives in Barwon, Victoria, around 10kms from the centre of Melbourne.

  3. Sean O Finn

    The damm hypocrisy of Mckenzie and her ilk is unbelievable. She is a member of a Government who’s actions and stated intentions are to eliminate any competition to the News Limited propaganda arm and she thinks it is okay to restrict the ABC even further to look after electorate so she can feed them her line. If this is so important mandate exactly the same for the so called private sector and ensure it delivers the diversity it shouts about by ensuring that the proposed media changes don’t go through.

  4. Lee Tinson

    You have to wonder how stupid a senator can be. Enthusiastically supports government moves to strip funding of tens of millions of dollars from ABC (much of which would have been for regional programming), then demands priority for her alleged constituents. Perhaps this senator might like to go and actually live in a rural area before speaking. Or better still, just SHUT THE HELL UP! What an idiot!


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