Menu lock

TV & Radio

Sep 4, 2017


A group of Norfolk Islanders are setting up a community radio station as competition to the Australian government-run local station, which they say doesn’t allow freedom of expression.

Bob Turner applied for the radio licence after he says he was sacked from Radio Norfolk, the local station, for being too outspoken against the Australian government. He told Crikey he was one of five presenters fired “for voicing opinions that weren’t what the Australian government wanted”. They were officially told they were surplus to requirements, and Turner said the stations output was now covered by only a handful of staff and volunteers, relying on more international content.

“The local radio is the only source of local media on Norfolk Island,” Turner said. “And local content’s dropped right down.”

So he applied for a radio licence, has been given access to a building the station can use as a studio and community centre for a year and crowdfunded for radio equipment — the community station met its target of $7000 last week.

Turner said he’d applied for the licence more than a year ago, but it had only just been approved and since then they had been running a membership drive and working on the new studio, including a community working bee.

“We are wanting to build a community station where everybody has a voice no matter where they stand and a space that’s as interactive as possible where everybody feels welcome,” he said.

The not-for-profit community station is also running a membership program to help with funding.

Turner told Crikey the station would be a community meeting place, and he hoped the local school could be involved, and there would more of the native language spoken on air.

The Australian government took over public assets on the island in 2015 when self-government was removed and the local Legislative Assembly was abolished. The move was the result of a bailout during the global financial crisis. The island had been self-governed since the 1970s.

Norfolk Island Administrator Eric Hutchinson’s office didn’t respond to Crikey‘s request for comment.


Jan 11, 2017


In the media, measures of attention are big business. They determine what you can charge your advertisers and how seriously people take your outlet. In commercial TV and radio, stars and shows live and die by their figures.

But the figures are often far from perfect. Of the many official ways audiences and reach are measured in the Australian media, a range of methods and biases can throw things out. Some rankings are freely available to anyone who wants to look them up. Others are kept in-house, or sold to subscribers for a fee. Some you can take at face value, and others, well, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of their flaws. Here are the most common measures of audience used by media companies, and what you should make of them.

The small screen

The TV figures are some of the most important of all, partly because of how often they come out and how (relatively) robust they are. On the small screen, how many people are watching is measured minute by minute. TV execs can pore over the previous day’s ratings from early the next morning. Things that don’t rate well don’t tend to last.

The company that wields so much power over the small screen is OzTAM (short for Australian Television Audience Measurement), which is owned by the Seven, Nine and Ten networks. It installs measuring hardware on the televisions of several thousand homes (5250 are participating in the free-to-air measurement system in 2017) and simply measures what that sample are watching, night by night, minute by minute, demographic by demographic. You can get access to them by subscribing (a small number of industry players pay millions a year to do so), but they’re not hard for media reporters to get their hands on for free, which is why you see them reported on in so many places (including Crikey).

If the sample is representative (OzTAM weights the survey so it is representative of the broader population), then the measures are statistically robust, if not perfect — it is, after all, an extrapolation on a smallish sample. But television is being disrupted, and that’s starting to show. Many young people no longer own televisions. Australians of all ages watch things online rather than turning on the TV set. Streaming figures exist, but not in a centralised place you can check the next day. Many are tracked internally by the various broadcasters, and not publicly released.

[Playing in traffic: the dirty tricks publishers use to boost online views]

Another problem with streaming is that people stream TV when it suits them, not the moment it’s available. The overnight TV ratings are easy to understand and report on, but for many types of shows, they do not capture total viewing. For dramas in particular, the TV ratings are less than robust. Last year, Crikey pointed out that the ABC’s Cleverman, a new indigenous sci-fi drama, got killer reviews, but poor ratings. But our analysis didn’t include iView views. We did ask about them, but the ABC doesn’t routinely release such figures, and it didn’t release them to us.

Multi-channelling has also complicated things — some networks run shows on more than one channel at the same time, which can provide an audience boost. Still, for all their faults, the OzTAM figures are timely, detailed and relatively transparent.

Don’t touch that dial

The radio ratings are just as closely watched as those in television. But unlike their cousins in television, radio execs have to wait.

A few times a year, thousands of people across Australia are given diaries and told to fill them out over a given week. Every radio ratings survey averages out responses over a few weeks, and GfK, which since 2013 has complied the ratings for industry body Commercial Radio Australia, carefully controls the age and geographical distribution of those selected.


Minimum sample sizes for each city, from GfK’s explanation of how it does the radio ratings.

Four in five of those who participate in the survey are given paper diaries and told to fill them out every day with their listening habits. The final 20% are given digital ones. At the end of every survey period, the figures for each city are collated and averaged out over a few weeks, to give an average listenership number for each station by time block.

Of course, as with any survey-based system, listeners are likely to remember the most popular stations and time-slots when they fill out their diaries. Because of this, some have argued the diary system helps preserve the radio status quo.

Inky fingers …

For newspapers, print circulation relies on average daily sales records as provided by participating newspapers. These are released four times a year by the Audited Media Association of Australia, and list paid distribution. That also includes discounted copies to airports, schools and hotels, which are broken out separately. For a while, there was a push to count digital subscriptions in with the daily papers, to more accurately reflect a paper’s total subscriptions base. But this never got much traction. Only a handful of papers revealed their digital subscriber numbers, and at its annual results this year, Fairfax said it would no longer provide its digital subscription numbers for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

It had never given digital subscription figures for the Financial Review. Likewise News Corp has very selectively provided digital subscription figures to Nielsen — and recently, News Corp executive Damian Eales joined Fairfax’s Greg Hywood in saying the figures weren’t really what advertisers were after. “The reality is that media buyers and advertisers aren’t interested in circulation. They plan media based on the audience that reads a paper, not the number of papers printed,” he told the Oz.

Just before Christmas, the nation’s three major magazine publishers pulled their titles out of the Audit Bureau, arguing total audiences, including digital, were a far more important metric to advertisers. That will mean fewer bad news stories for the magazine industry — for a time at least.

… But isn’t print dead?

That’s an argument newspapers make as well, though, so far, none have entirely pulled their print editions out of the circulation audit. But they have emphasised a new, preferred metric. Total print reach is combined with digital reach in a newish monthly measure called EMMA, owned by industry body NewsMediaWorks (formerly Newspaper Works — it changed its name to better reflect the times last year). In EMMA’s favour, the figures are released monthly and are publicly available on its website.

The EMMA survey relies on after-the-fact surveys of around 50,000 people who participate in a panel, asking them what they’ve read for more than two minutes over the past month. The sample is massaged to be broadly representative, in much the same way political polling is. Like radio ratings and other “survey” measures of readership, there’s a potential bias in this methodology — people remember the more popular brands more easily than smaller ones.

[‘Magical’ newspapers take a hammering in circulation figures]

EMMA controversially assumes every print title is read multiple times, even if it is only purchased once. According to the EMMA survey, nearly 1 million people (942,000) read the Australian Financial Review in print in October 2016. This for a paper that sells less than 50,000 copies a day, according to its circulation figures. In magazines, Woman’s Day had a print audience of 2.8 million in the same month — even though, according to the September quarter circulation figures, it sold less than 250,000 copies a month (every copy would have to be passed around more than 10 times to get the print readership figure EMMA’s surveys find).

But print is only one part of the EMMA survey: to arrive at a total masthead readership figure, it combines the print with the Nielsen/IAB audience digital estimates.

That brings us to the final measure of audience, which is digital reach. The gold standard for news outlet reach in Australia are the monthly Nielsen digital news figures, which are just one category of several types of websites measured by Nielsen.

The system is somewhat complex and was refined last year to gather more data from mobile and tablet users. Data is collected first through the publishers themselves, which allow Nielsen to implant traffic-measuring add-ons to their websites. More data is collected from panels of smartphone and tablets users, who might browse websites only through dedicated apps from publishers, as well as PC users, which are fused together and then “calibrated” from figures obtained from the tagged websites.

Of course, all digital traffic systems are vulnerable to manipulation. Popups, auto-play videos and even traffic bought through bots can all help keep the page-views up if they ever dip. Though reputable publishers wouldn’t want to rely on such tactics too much — advertisers see through them eventually.


Mar 5, 2014


The intense focus on the future of Qantas moved Deputy PM and Minister for Infrastructure Warren Truss up 22 places this week, the announcement of drought assistance also adding to his coverage. Qantas was also the explanation for Opposition Transport Spokesperson Anthony Albanese’s rise, with the opposition refusing to support the government’s planned changes to the Qantas Sale Act to allow more foreign ownership. Independent Senator Nick Xenophon’s strong criticism of Qantas management and opposition to changes also pushed him well up the list. With Fairfax MP Clive Palmer and the Greens also signalling opposition, the Senate looks like a pretty big stumbling block for the government’s plans.

The focus on matters other than asylum seekers (although it didn’t exactly vanish as an issue this week) pushed Immigration Minister Scott Morrison down a spot and saw the PM’s coverage bounce back over the 30,000 mark for only the second time this year. It also pushed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten up to the more usual spot for his position, snaffling around a third of the PM’s volume of coverage.

Interestingly, in the two states with imminent elections, the opposition leaders both received more coverage than the premiers. It looks like the media have already decided which names they will need to be following for the next three or four years in South Australia and Tasmania, and it’s not South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill or Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings.

Crikey Political Index February 27 – March 5

Senator Stephen Conroy was the only new entrant to this list this week, and you may be unsurprised to hear much of the commentary was less than friendly.

Talkback top five

Stephen Conroy makes it onto this list as well, but the bulk of online ire remains with Scott Morrison and the PM, who jumped to more than twice anyone else’s mentions as social media derived campaigns opposing current asylum seeker policies built traction.

Social media top five

Personally I like my humour a little more, well, humorous, and we all know the Oscars bore-a-thon needs a few zingers to keep everyone awake, but it seems Ellen and her pizzas and selfies is where the zeitgeist is at right now. At least radio was also disinterested. Oh, and our Cate won again, of course.

Comparison of media mentions

TV & Radio

Feb 12, 2013


The value of on-air stars to radio networks is diminishing. The companies that pay the bills are much more important.

“It’s less ‘show business’ and more ‘business’,” Ryan Khay, program director of Mix, an Austereo station in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, told Crikey. “A program director needs to be sales friendly and understand all the elements of the game.”

Gone are the days of fat announcer pay cheques. In fact, more often than announcers care to admit, wages are the same today as 15 years ago. Many announcers are forced to take on multiple roles (such as working in copywriting, promotions or programming) in order to earn a decent wage and enjoy job security.

Sean Craig Murphy, drive announcer and tutor at the Australian Radio School, put it simply: “Radio was fat. It had to get lean.”

Broadcasting stalwart Brian Carlton recently said goodbye to the media industry after 29 years of service, saying “the media is in a massive period of contraction. There has to be more to life than year-by-year contracts.” Radio legend (and voice of City Rail) Grant Goldman stated resolutely “most guys I know earn between $40,000 and $45,000 per year”. A dismal prospect indeed for the thousands of media graduates hoping for a broadcasting career.

Program directors and general managers know there’s no shortage of fresh, cheap talent. Khay says he receives at least 100 airchecks each year from announcers looking for a job; Murphy reports  “phenomenal” demand at the Australian Radio School.

It’s not the same game for announcers any more. As social media and new platforms emerge there is more need for content to be directed and “purchased” by corporations and advertisers, via collaborations, promotions and integration. On-air content is much more structured than it was in the past: chances are, if you’ve heard something on air it’s been designed to generate greater revenue.

“Our clients need to be everywhere our audience is having a conversation,” said Kate Beddoe, national digital director at the Australian Radio Network. “That means every device and every platform — from on-air to Facebook.”

And the creative content is often integrated too. “We will find more ways to integrate the listening experience with new technology and social media as it continues to evolve,” said Khay.

Mark Collier, head of radio at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, says spinning tunes is no longer the primary skill. “Over the last five years there has been a requirement for training in cross platforms, including social media,” he said.

“The industry has become more adept at using its commercial and non-commercial space to create more effective commercial ‘cut-through’ and content.”

Recent events like the 2Day FM nurse prank scandal have shown how important it is for networks to “think” before they open the mic. With advertisers ready to pull out (and stations now voluntarily pulling them) in times of crisis, there is less room for announcers to “speak their minds” for fear of upsetting the corporate dollar.

It hasn’t always been that way. “When I started [in the 1970s] there were no formal qualifications as such,” said Trevor Sinclair, from 2CH Drive on the Macquarie Media Network, home of controversial Sydney station 2GB. Professionalism, new ideas and strategic maximisation of potential profits is now so important that AFTRS has added a 12-week “strategic radio sales” course to its curriculum. The jobs are in sales, marketing and integration.

Looking for better ways to make money out of radio is nothing new, but with profits continuing to slide — and networking and less localisation becoming the norm — some stalwart announcers fear the medium could become “a sanitised and beige industry” where announcers are muzzled by the brands advertised on the networks.

So is it dollars over “free” creative content? “The industry has become more adept at using its commercial and non-commercial space to create more effective commercial ‘cut-through’ and content,” said David Hefter, national sales director at ARN. “Integration has been the buzzword.”

In 2013 networks can’t simply put a program, an announcer, a competition or a song on air and cross their fingers: everything is planned. “The other shift has been towards greater integration of well-thought-out and planned promotions or campaigns so as to make the message more interactive for the listener and to get them to engage with the product or service,” said Hefter.

Collier is concerned with making sure his graduates understand that working in broadcasting is not all about being a “star”.

So will the traditional radio “jock” become obsolete? Some believe that they just have to prepare to adapt. “The market is looking for more cross-platform integration using on-air talent in the digital age we now live in. Our clients are looking for true partnerships and multiplatform communications solutions, not just a radio schedule,” said Michelle Thomas, ARN campaigns and activations director.

For now creative content is safe, but announcers still need to be aware of the changing landscape of on-air content, and how it is structured, planned — and paid for.

People & Ideas

Nov 1, 2012


Walk the corridors of the 2GB building and you’ll pass a line-up of white men smiling from frames along the walls. Alan Jones smiling blithely next to Ray Hadley and Chris Smith. Ben Fordham’s cheeky grin. Ross Greenwood (my boss, in the name of full disclosure, and one of the best people I know) beams down at you on the way to the studio. The studio where, all hours of the day and night, the hosts of Sydney’s top-rating radio station sit, their microphones as loudspeakers to a devout audience.

If you’re listening out for a female host’s voice, you’ll be waiting a while.

There are female producers, yes — myself included. In fact, with the exception of Jones, all the top rating hosts — Hadley, Smith, Fordham, Greenwood, and Steve Price — have female producers. There are more women in the newsroom than men, as reporters and readers.

Otherwise, the airwaves are a cavalcade of male opinion.

On Sundays on 2GB — the soft news day — Dr Katrina Warren co-hosts Talking Pets, and Sandra and Linda Ross co-host The Gardening Clinic. Both shows, you’ll notice, focus on domesticity. There’s no political commentary here; just planting roses and caring for pets. Warren and the Ross sisters are always joined by male co-hosts, never left on their own. On weekdays and weeknights, it’s only men in the hot seat, and it’s fair to say that the majority of guests are male.

On 2UE (2GB’s longstanding adversary), the gender bias is just as stubborn. Predictably, it’s another line-up of white men — aside from Tracey Spicer, who regularly stands in to host, and a female psychic. ABC Radio has the brilliant Fran Kelly, but she and a handful of other female hosts are still vastly outnumbered by men in news, current affairs and opinion coverage. And don’t get me started on the power dynamic between Kyle Sandilands and his accomplice Jackie O on 2DayFM.

So what happens to gender diversity when the ON AIR button flicks on? Is a woman host not commercially viable? Is it too risky for a station to bet on change and try to sell advertising space on her show? Is the sound of a woman’s voice really so threatening, or so alienating? Have we ever given it a decent go?

It’s likely women don’t put themselves forward for broadcast positions, either because the culture of masculinity is impenetrable or there’s simply no opportunity to do so. Talkback radio hosts stay on air for decades, sometimes well into their 70s. The turnover of announcers is so slow, and they’re usually replaced by someone already in the building. The pool of announcers on AM radio is an exclusive boys’ club, with little to no sign of change.

The response to Alan Jones’ recent comments about Julia Gillard’s father has been fascinating. Actually, it’s likely spurred a national conversation about s-xism. Hundreds of thousands of people have come forward to express their disgust at his tactlessness and temerity. Prominent women — like Jenna Price, Jane Caro and Anne Summers — have been driving an anti-2GB crusade to target the station’s advertisers and chip away at Jones’ influence. These intelligent, erudite and, frankly, awesome women have protested, tweeted, written letters to advertisers and mobilised men and women in dissent. Price even braved the 2GB studios for a face-to-face interview with Chris Smith.

The problem is, as long as women remain in protest, we stay on the periphery of news commentary. We’re setting ourselves up as interviewees, but not directly setting the agenda as interviewers. Men’s radio dialogue, particularly talkback, is left unopposed as long as women are silent on the same medium. The “Destroy The Joint” campaign (based on another Jones spray) is subversive and has been powerful, but it’s left women on the sidelines of debate, protesting but still not staging their rebuttal at the source of the problem — on air during prime-time radio programs.

The bottom line is, if we’re to have any hope of diversity of opinion we need more women on the radio. Who’s first?

*This article was originally published at Women’s Agenda


Oct 10, 2012


In a text dripping with impotent fury, outraged victimhood and plain Don’t-Get-Itness, Macquarie Radio’s statement that it was yanking all advertising from the Alan Jones show on the weekend was a revealing insight into the mindset of a company that is convinced it is under siege.

There was the reference to bullying, of course, which yielded such a rich harvest of irony and schadenfreude for a network so reliant on professional bullies. But it was illuminating for more significant reasons.

Yesterday we discussed how social media enables humans to do exactly what they did before the arrival of the internet, only now in communities that are broader, that can process and distribute information more quickly and that are liberated from geography. In responding to the threat posed by such communities to industries dependent on information control, we’ve seen analogue-era élites analysing the problem as one in traditional media terms: who are the “publishers” and how can they be controlled?

That is, they respond by applying what you might call hub-and-spoke thinking to a network.

Such thinking is amply displayed in the statement by Macquarie Radio CEO Russell Tate, a former advertising exec. “The difference between 2GB and some catchy URL is that MRN operates in a regulated media environment … We operate within a long established regulatory guidelines [sic] and rules.”

“One of the traditional regular criticisms of social media used to be that it is a forum for slacktivism, for lazy people whose idea of giving voice to their social conscience is not to take to the streets and protest but Like a Facebook page or RT the Kony video and maybe order the wristband online. “

Apart from the get-off-my-lawn tone of the phrase “catchy URL”, Tate’s conceptualisation of the problem is clear — not merely is MRN being bullied (sorry, cyberbullied, because everything sounds better with the prefix cyber-) but its bully has an unfair advantage — no accountability or regulatory scrutiny.

Tate went further with the analogy, and suggested social media was merely derivative of talkback radio. “Talk radio is arguably the original form of social media,” he claimed. Indeed it has greater audience participation than, say, television or newspapers, but talkback radio is as comparable to social media as Alan Jones flapping his arms is to a jetliner. Social media has no controlling node, no producer, no delay button, no one carefully screening calls as MRN does to ensure only the Rightest of the Right get to air. That it replicates, with greater speed, many of the features of the traditional media is merely incidental to its core function of interconnectivity.

But a key problem with mischaracterising social media as just another, rival form of media is that the traditional media response to emerging competitors doesn’t work.

In both Australia and the US, the history of media regulation has been one of media incumbents exploiting political influence to keep out competitors or new media technologies, and to control those technologies once incumbents were ready to shift their business model. In Australia, newspaper companies were given radio licences; newspapers and radio licensees were given television licences, new television licences were kept off the market despite spectrum being available, pay-TV was banned and then prevented from competing effectively, the introduction of digital TV was controlled by incumbents, and so on.

Some of Tate’s shock jocks want to try this approach, by imposing more regulation on social media, to make it more like traditional media. Tony “free speech” Abbott has made similar noises.

But the regulatory approach fails with the internet. Traditional media companies were quick to colonise the internet in the 1990s and soon the websites of old media became the most heavily-trafficked websites. But then the people formerly known as the audience took over. First they began sharing old media content with each other in defiance of owners’ wishes (another pre-internet habit dramatically juiced up by the internet). Then they began forming communities with each other online.

And the emerging “publishers” of the new era — Apple, Google, Facebook — were so successful, they couldn’t be taken over by old media. And in most countries they couldn’t be regulated except on their own terms. Nor could they be kept out of markets.

Governments tried to help incumbents, passing ever-more draconian copyright laws to stop filesharing for example, but users just routed round the laws.

But there’s another, more amusing consequence of this category error of mistaking social media for another form of traditional media: a tendency to overestimate its impact. One of the traditional regular criticisms of social media used to be that it is a forum for slacktivism, for lazy people whose idea of giving voice to their social conscience is not to take to the streets and protest but Like a Facebook page or RT the Kony video and maybe order the wristband online. Suddenly, however, in a matter of months media companies are quaking in their boots and being bullied by the power of the clicktivists. It’s a seemingly stunning transformation.

In fact chances are the capacity of social media is overestimated: the actual number of people who would have altered their purchasing decisions to reflect their distaste about a company’s association with Alan Jones would be far less than normal monthly variations in sales. But many companies rely on social media strategists to tell them how crucial social media is, how important it is that they engage with it, and thus mischaracterise the actual threat it poses.

Call it the Mubarak Syndrome, like the dictator who, worried about a relatively small but highly-visible group of opponents using the internet, shuts it down, thereby irritating and demonstrating his fragility to a much larger number of citizens than would otherwise have noticed. Social media impacts occur as much, or more, in the minds of those who find themselves fighting it, than in reality.

Moreover, this all focuses on discontinuity at the expense of the continuity. People have been complaining to one another about, and boycotting, companies since there were companies. The American Revolutionary War began with boycotts. Boycotts still spread in the same way as they used to, from engaged activists to the broader community, if there is sufficient motivation for an issue to catch fire. Only now, the communities in which boycotts are considered is larger and no longer constrained by geography or limited communication tools.

Alan Jones went further than “bullying” and labelled the campaign against him “cyberterrorism”. While that’s the most hysterical overreaction to anything you’ll see this year, in a vague, roundabout way he has a point: what’s happening here is innately political. The flattening of information hierarchies and the undermining of existing economic structures, especially such an influential one as the media, is automatically political. Implicit in the growth of communities and their capacity to swiftly distribute information is a shift in power, one that is immediately to the disadvantage of those who held power in analogue-era communities.

In the case of the Australian media, it tends to be old white privileged males — the Alan Joneses, Ray Hadleys and Russell Tates. That MRN first felt the sting of social media via the Destroy The Joint campaign, which harnessed the wave of spontaneous anger at Jones’ misogyny, was wonderfully symbolic of the shift in power that is occurring.

Perhaps more so than lawyers, or record company executives, or department store retailers, the idea of giving up power is anathema to these men. Power is how they define themselves, in contrast to the powerless who form their audience, whose causes they sometimes graciously pick up. Instead of accommodating the new distribution of power, they’re more likely to cut themselves off from it, to try to hang on to whatever remains of their analogue-era power. In the meantime, communities will continue to form around, and over the top of them.


May 1, 2012


The Convergence Review is … complicated. Appropriately complicated, in some ways, because it takes a root-and-branch look at how we regulate media and communications, identifies the flaws and proposes a wholly new approach to it.

There are big problems with some of its proposals, yes, but it deserves a detailed look at what has driven them, something most critics seem unwilling to do, preferring to attack its recommendations as though they’ve dropped out of the sky.

And, actually, the sky is relevant, because the sky, and particularly the distance radio transmissions travel across it, is the basis for how we regulate media and deal with issues such as media diversity. Our entire media regulatory framework is based on radio licence areas, which are structured around ensuring major population centres can have radio services without them interfering with each other. It’s radio licence areas, for example, that form the basis of our rules about how many media groups there can be in an area, and how you can’t control groups across all three platforms.

This approach also means that we have no way to assess the national impact of media mergers — our laws don’t recognise the existence of a national dimension to the media, so the The Australian Financial Review and The Australian don’t even count as media outlets.

The review suggests abandoning radio licence areas as the basis for regulation. That’s the single most critical part of the review, by far, even if few commentators will pick it up. From that springs a huge chunk of the recommendations across several areas.

It instead recommends regulation based on  local areas and a national media environment, in which a regulator would determine the relevant local area, not radio licences, and mergers of major groups would be assessed at a national level as well.

How the regulator does that is where the problems arise: once you take away hard-and-fast rules around radio licence areas, the regulator needs to make subjective judgments about what a local area is and who the important media groups are in it, although the review recommends some guidelines for this and recommends keeping some basic numerical rules about the minimum number of media groups in an area.

Subjectivity is also the problem for a public interest test, which would be the basis for assessments of national-level mergers by the regulator (bizarrely, Malcolm Turnbull issued a media release yesterday saying that Julia Gillard would be the one making such assessments); the review also recommends a “public benefit” exemption for local area mergers that might otherwise fall foul of minimum numbers. In short, there are an awful lot of subjective assessments that the regulator will need to make.

It also recommends abandoning the link between spectrum allocation and content licensing. This is a subtle point, but an important one: currently in broadcasting the two are linked – access to broadcast spectrum comes with the rights and obligations of a content licence. Dumping radio licence areas also means you can decouple content and spectrum. That means spectrum is potentially more valuable when auctioned, because the purchaser no longer has to provide their own content services as a requirement of purchase.

The shift away from licence area also informs the overall approach to regulation of the review: instead of black-letter law based around identified restrictions such as numbers of media groups and enforced by a regulator, it suggests a legislative framework based on principles, which a powerful, independent regulator would then interpret.

And who gets regulated is also affected by this move away from radio licences areas. The review suggests that “content service enterprises”, the clunky name for media outlets, be determined free of issues about licensing and instead revolve around the issue of influence. That means newspapers (online or off) and subscription TV can be brought into the mix.

This raises a philosophical issue, at least for newspapers (pay TV is licensed and regulated under the Broadcasting Services Act now, even though it doesn’t necessarily use spectrum). Why should newspapers be regulated if they don’t use spectrum? They’re not licensed, they’re merely an expression of free speech. But the review counters that newspapers are already regulated now under media ownership laws, so there’s nothing philosophically innovative about regulating them; I might add it was the case until 2006 that foreign investment in newspapers was also specifically regulated (grandfathered for that Yank, Rupert) under foreign investment laws. Even so, the gist of the review case for bringing newspapers into the regulatory fold is, basically, because the community wants influential media regulated. Make of that what you will.

Interestingly, the review has backed right away from the suggestion that it wants to regulate the internet. Indeed, it devoted a specific subsection to taking issue with my coverage of its interim report on that score. The thresholds for “content service enterprises” have been carefully drawn up so as to ensure no internet company — not Google, not Apple — nor Telstra are roped in, although Telstra and Apple come close. Instead, the review identifies 15 potential CSEs (News Limited, Fairfax Media, Foxtel, Nine Entertainment, Seven West Media, APN News & Media, Austar, WIN, Ten, Southern-Cross Austereo, Prime Media, Macquarie Radio Network, DMG Radio Australia, Australia Radio Network, and regional radio network Grant Broadcasters), all of which are broadcasters or newspaper outlets.

Also missing — and the basis for my claim that the interim review proposed “regulating the internet” — is the previous suggestion that:

“… it is not intended that all content providers be classified as Content Service Enterprises. Emerging services, start‐up businesses and individuals should not be captured by unnecessary requirements and obligations. Despite this, all content providers will still be subject to some requirements, such as those protecting children from harmful content.”

Instead, the review simply notes that CSEs be defined in a way that allows for the possibility that in the future, online media could be regulated as CSEs. It’s a neat way of putting off into the future the tricky problem of making Apple contribute to an Australian content fund.

There’s much, much more to the review that we’ll look at in coming days. But it recognises the fundamental nature of the regulatory change and often proposes transitional arrangements. It proposes an entirely different philosophy of media regulation from the one we’ve had for nearly a century, one in which politicians don’t make the key decisions about media ownership through law, merely identify the broad principles of what they want achieved and leave it to an independent regulator to accomplish.

That’s the key reason the review will never be implemented. Politicians won’t relinquish control of media regulation in that way. There’s too much at stake for them. And in any event, this government is in no fit state to undertake a major overhaul of media regulation, not even with as effective a minister as Stephen Conroy in charge. Never mind the numbers in Parliament, that’s because media reform creates winners and losers, and the winners tend to keep quiet and the losers protest long and loud.

Someone powerful always ends up grumpy at the outcome of any changes to media regulation. Don’t expect any action until after the next election, when the Coalition inherits the analog mess that our media regulatory framework is rapidly becoming.

TV & Radio

Mar 8, 2012


Ask Amanda Blair — the only regular female radio presenter on metropolitan commercial AM radio in Australia — if she’s encountered sexism in the workplace and her war stories seem to never end.

“I’ve had program directors ask me if I’ve got my period if I’ve complained about something,” she told Crikey. “I’ve had program directors say to me ‘why can’t you just be like all the other girls who make cups of tea and are nice to me?’. I’ve had ‘look, you probably shouldn’t talk about politics because you’re a woman’. I’ve had ‘I probably shouldn’t ask this, but are you going to get pregnant again? Because if you are then it might determine how long I’m going to sign you for on your contract’.”

Blair hosts a show (1-4pm) every afternoon on Adelaide’s 5AA and previously hosted the breakfast show at SAFM, part of the Austereo network. She’s careful to add that these experiences are retrospective and she no longer works with any of the managers involved.

“I’m on a number of government and industry boards and I kind of feel like I am living two lives,” said Blair. “I have normal life where things are regulated and where people say decent things to each other and people are rewarded for being intelligent. And then I flip into radio world where sometimes you feel like you’ve got to play the role of Francis Farmer post lobotomy to survive. ”

Last week radio presenter turned online publisher Wendy Harmer wrote an article (“AM radio tunes out women“) about the lack of women on AM radio in Australia for her new site The Hoopla. In response, Scott Muller wrote a piece on Radio Today noting there are only two female content or program directors working for FM radio.

“They’re on ABC radio, they’re in newspapers, they’re in magazines, they’re editors. They’re everywhere but they’re not on the AM dial and more to the point they’re not in management in either AM or FM radio,” Harmer told Crikey.

It seems commercial radio — particularly AM — is the final frontier for feminism in the media, a bastion of old white men who will go to their graves still holding onto their mics and old-school stereotypes.

“I’m just waiting for them to die off,” Susan Mitchell — a former host on Sydney’s 2GB and 2UE, as well as a stint hosting mornings at ABC’s 612 in Brisbane — told Crikey.

“When 2UE was up against 2GB I used to say ‘why don’t you have some women up against the Ray Hadleys and just see’,” said Mitchell. “The answer is always the same: ‘we did it once and we failed and we’re never doing it again’. Well, if that was true of sex no one would ever be born.”

Industry scuttlebutt recently had 2UE announcing a new show starring Tracey Spicer and Prue MacSween to take on shock jock Ray Hadley’s domination. But then it seemed the show collapsed even before it began, with reports that both Spicer and MacSween had pulled out of discussions with 2UE.

Both MacSween and Spicer didn’t want to comment for this story, with Spicer acknowledging that contract negotiations are still underway — hinting the show may still go ahead. Spicer did note however that despite media reports she’d turned down the show due to flexibility issues with children, 2UE had been supportive of juggling work and family and it wasn’t a factor in current negotiations.

According to reports, one of the main factors in the negotiations is pay, with the highly-experienced media performers apparently offered $150,000 each for the role — compared to the salary of David Oldfield, current host of the mornings slot, of $200,000.

That’s fairly typical, according to Harmer: “They take the money they’re going to pay a man and they divide it in half.”

The anecdotes align with a new survey conducted by journalism academic Louise North from Monash University. North surveyed 577 women working in the Australian news media about their experiences, including incidents of sexual harassment and promotional opportunities.

Of those surveyed working in radio — 82 women — the majority worked at the ABC. “Women in commercial radio are few, and hard to track down,” North said.

Still, 58% of women working at metro radio stations said they’d experienced sexual harassment (compared to 40% at rural radio stations). Around 22-25% of all surveyed women in radio said they’d left jobs in the media because they felt discriminated against in their promotional opportunities, a figure double the overall industry results.

When asked if she ever felt discriminated against when it came to promotions, Mitchell replied: “At the ABC I never felt like that. But 2GB had no women presenters. I was given midnight to dawn, as a test I thought; ‘let’s see if the girl can do it’. So I was determined to prove I could do it … [but] you’re only ever going to be a fill-in for a gap when someone was away on holidays.” Continue reading “Talkback radio: the one medium where feminism dare not enter the waves”


Dec 12, 2011


Trust in Australia’s commercial media has hit new lows, while the ABC continues to command the trust of voters.

In a reprise of questions asked in July this year and in 2010, Essential Research asked voters about levels of trust in different forms of media. Following the establishment by the government of an independent inquiry into the newspaper industry and its regulation, the results are damning for commercial media.

Newspapers now command “a lot” or “some” trust from only 46% of voters, down from 53% in July. That was itself down from 62% in March 2010.

The July result appeared to be the result of the prominent coverage of phone hacking by the Murdoch press in Britain, but the fall has continued unabated since then, despite Australia’s two biggest print media companies, News Limited and Fairfax, insisting all was well with Australian newspapers.

Only 3% of voters say they have “a lot of trust” in newspapers while 13% say they have “no trust at all”.

Trust in commercial news and current affairs has also fallen, from 48% in July to 43% now, after being 64% in 2010. Five per cent of voters say they have a lot of trust in commercial television news, but 19% say they have no trust at all.

In contrast, trust in the ABC’s television news and current affairs edged up from 71% to 72%, with 23% of voters saying they had “a lot of trust” in the national broadcaster. Trust in its radio news and current affairs stayed on 67%; trust in the ABC’s radio talkback programs remained at 47%.

The least-trusted media are internet blogs, trusted by just 17% of voters. Next are commercial radio talkback programs, which have remained the same on 33%. News and opinion websites are on 38%, having fallen from 41% in July.

And in another blow for the newspaper industry, voters disapprove of the regulatory performance of the Australian Press Council. Only 20% of voters think the Press Council, set up and funded by newspapers themselves, does a good job of regulating the industry. Twenty five per cent of voters don’t think the council does a good job, while 38% think it does only an average job of regulating the sector.

The Press Council, under a more activist chairman in Julian Disney, has ambitions for a bigger, more formal regulatory role and wants to bring online publications within its ambit. The reaction from voters suggests such ambitions are based on shaky ground indeed.


Sep 2, 2011


Last week, Crikey had a look at Screen Australia’s data on declining levels of Australian content in the new digital television environment. With new multichannels to introduce, and no content restrictions to hold them back, Australia’s television network shave made hay with cheap foreign content, diluting the proportion of home-grown content on our screens.

This week we look at one practical response to that problem, from ABC’s youth radio network Triple J. A high-profile and well-funded part of the ABC’s radio empire, Triple J often cops criticisms that stem from perceptions about the commercial focus of its playlists and the general “FM radio” sheen of much of its presentation (the sweepers, the compression, and, yes, the advertisements).

But when it comes to the Australian music industry, Triple J matters. Its ability to break new artists and to build audiences for established ones makes it a key player in the local music scene, influential far beyond what its audience figures would suggest.

Now Triple J is launching a new digital multichannel — Triple J Unearthed — specifically devoted to new and emerging Australian contemporary music. The new channel will fish from the deep content pool the station has acquired over recent years via its emerging musicians portal,, which the station says has over 30,000 artists and 250,000 users.

Crikey spoke to Triple J’s manager Chris Scaddan before the launch of the new channel last week. “It’s 100% Australian music, all unsigned and independent,” he said. “It’s got to a point that there’s over 31,000 artists on there, so there’s so much goddamn music that, you know, we’ve seen the need to create a full-time station on the radio.”

The station will roll out initially in the five big capital cities on the mainland, with plans to extend to other centres as digital radio slowly expands across more of Australia. But, importantly, the service will also stream live from the Triple J Unearthed website.

For Scaddan: “Australian content has always been important to Triple J, since it began. We’re up to the point on Triple J itself where every month we play between 40% and 50% Australian music across our general playlist and programs.” The new channel will build on this.

The format of Unearthed will be akin to ABC’s digital radio channels (Dig, Dig Jazz) but with higher production levels. There won’t be genre-based shows but rather a continuous stream with limited announcements.

“There won’t be presenters in the sense that you’d expect traditionally on Triple J or other radio stations,” Scaddan said, “so there won’t be a breakfast show or a drive show or that sort of thing. But it’s going to be a little bit beyond what the other ABC digital channels sound like as well, so it will be a constant stream of music, it’s very much going to be driven by the music. Digital radio allows text information to go out as well, so people can read track information, artist information as songs are being played.

“A couple of times across each hour you might hear an artist actually introduce their own tracks.”

This is not just a new channel on the cheap. The ABC’s radio division is investing modest funds from its own budget to staff and produce the channel. Unearthed will get its own music director, though who will fill the position has yet to be announced. “That said, Mark Scott and the broader ABC management have always been strong supporters of Unearthed,” Scaddan contends.

An important aspect of the new station for emerging artists will be the potential to garner new revenue streams through APRA payments for Triple J air time. While most artists receiving airplay won’t get more than a few dollars, the struggles of emerging artists are such that even a few dollars here and there can make all the difference when it comes to hiring that studio or buying that new set of strings.

It is easy to criticise Triple J but the new Unearthed channel shows the ABC and (indeed public sphere broadcasting in general) at its best: leveraging its existing infrastructure, technical expertise and deep content pools to present and expose Australian content.