January 20, 2016
Acting Prime Minister – and Member for Wide Bay – Warren Truss has suggested the ABC should start providing regional TV services as well as radio broadcasts as part of a shake-up to media ownership regulations.
The Federal Government is currently considering changes to media ownership regulations, which include the likely scrapping of the 75 per cent “reach” rule for TV broadcasters – which would allow major networks to take over regional broadcasters – and the “two out of three” rule which stops companies from owning a TV network, radio station and newspaper in the same market.
Speaking to journalists in Canberra on Wednesday, Mr Truss said TV broadcasters who had the privilege of having access to the broadcasting spectrum had an obligation to serve the whole of the country, and in particular people living in their licence area.
“That obviously does involve local new services and indeed a capacity to serve the local community with emergency times and in other instances,” he said.
“So we don’t care particularly who owns the stations, we just want there to be a commitment to deliver local services, and to deliver them in an effective way.
“And if there’s to be any changes to the legislation, that will be the kind of objective we’ll be looking to secure.
“It does seem a bit odd to me that the ABC, which is of course charged with delivering services to the whole of the country, is not obliged to provide television news services in regional communities.
“I think it should be. And I think the ABC should have a presence in regional communities that is capable of delivering not just radio news services but also television news services.
“And that would certainly enrich the variety and the capacity of local communities to be well-informed about what’s happening in their areas.”
Asked if he supported Senator Matthew Canavan’s suggestion to split the ABC into urban and rural divisions, Mr Truss said he didn’t personally favour a split.
“I would just like their culture to change so that it is a bit less Sydney-centric and capital city-centric, and makes a genuine and real commitment to regional communities,” he said.
“But I think that to divide it is unlikely to build a stronger ABC; if in fact it’s not adequately resourced in regional communities it won’t be an improved performance.
“What we want is a culture change. I strongly support elements of the proposed Private Member’s Bill from Bridget McKenzie which looks at making sure that there are people from regional communities on the board of the ABC, making sure that there is a real commitment to the regional communities and a presence that can capture the culture and the spirit of regional communities.
“It’s all very well to say you’re living in Sydney and you’ve got access to a phone and all sorts of modern technology and so therefore you understand life in the country, but in reality that doesn’t happen.
“And it is my great fear that the divide between country and city, instead of narrowing, is actually growing; that so much of our nation now is urbanised, so many people live in the capital cities, that it is just natural that resources are being devoted heavily to that capital city environment.
“And the country areas are not just a novelty, they’re not just a part of our history and a part of what we like to think about our country and its heroism and its stoicism. It’s actually the part of our country that contributes enormously to our nation’s national wealth, it produces a lot of – most – of our export income, and needs to be respected as a part of our industry, and our commerce, and our lifestyle.”
However, Mr Truss said the ABC needed to remain independent.
“Everyone accepts that,” he said. “But I think the ABC will earn a greater respect in the community if it demonstrates that it takes its responsibilities in that regard seriously, and that its culture can embrace people who live in regional communities just as strongly as those who live in the capital cities, that it can recognise that there’s a broad spectrum of views.
“Not everybody is a radical liberal moving forward, some people believe in the old values and the things that our country has prized in the past; that needs to be respected as a part of our culture, too.”
Mr Truss said there was no doubt the future of news would be very different than what it is now.
“We’re already seeing the struggles that newspapers are having to be commercially viable – that is particularly true in regional communities,” he said.
“The local newspaper is no longer very local, you’re lucky to have one or two pages in your provincial daily that deals with local news. Most of the news is being fed on the line by Canberra bureaus and out of network news services.
“Now that’s a part of the loss of local news that I regret, and that’s why having television stations and radio stations that also have a commitment to local areas is going to be so important in the future.
“So I recognise the changes there, the costs are different and they don’t sell as many newspapers, and therefore the budgets are not as high as they would wish to be, and that it does result in a considerable reduction of service.
“So I think it will be different; we’ve got to be innovative, we’ve got to be prepared to do things differently, and we just want country communities to have access to the same technology and the same services and capabilities that people in the cities take for granted.”