Foreign Media Ownership and Community Radio

August 20, 2018

My first career was in commercial media in the late 1980s—actually, the mid-1980s. I am fudging on my age already! From 1985 to 1988, I was in this place—in the Old Parliament House—as a political reporter. At that time, I experienced the impacts of aggregation and the consolidation of media ownership as a young journalist and also from the perspective of being a political reporter.

My radio station, 2UE, was bought by Kerry Packer, sold to Alan Bond and bought back by Kerry Packer. The upside of having a very close relationship, as a 2UE journalist, with Channel 9 was that, from time to time, I got to pick the brains of the likes of Laurie Oakes and Peter Harvey.

I was also lucky to benefit from Peter Harvey's generosity in tipping me off to the fact that, as a journalist, at 1 o'clock one morning I should be outside Parliament House waiting for the then minister for sport John Brown rather than being tucked away at home in my unit.

And landline phone calls—we didn't have mobiles—was the way we got information through then. That was a
time when journalists were on the ground. They were able to get places, but we stood and waited a lot—as still
happens now. It was a time of some diversity of media but a time of change. I lived through that.

I was then fortunate enough to spend three years as a foreign correspondent in the US and the UK, working for Australian commercial radio network Austereo and also for British commercial radio station LBC. So I bring the experience of two different overseas markets to this place as well, and to this legislation.

What remains with me, the feeling as a journalist, is that the more the media concentrates, the fewer big owners
there are, if you annoy one employer in the sector, there aren't an awful lot of employment options for you. That
was certainly the case in the 1980s and, sadly, it is even more the case now. It is one of the reasons why the
ABC, and its independence, is so important to providing a different voice that is not left to the whims of media
ownership and why it is so disappointing to see those opposite continuing to undermine not just the funding of
the ABC to be able to do independent journalism across all its platforms but also its independence.

I retain a very strong scepticism for any legislation that is the result of a deal with One Nation, that is agreed
to in exchange for support to scrap a two-out-of-three cross-media ownership change. The way it came about
does not send positive signals for the media sector. Even before the repeal of the constraint of the two-out-ofthree
media ownership rule, Australia had one of the most concentrated media markets in the world. And now
we have seen media diversity further undermined thanks to that change.

I remain concerned about the shrinking of newsrooms for journalists. From a merger, where two newsrooms
become one, it is my experience that the more journalists there are at a media conference listening with different
perspectives the more likely we are to be able to get to what is really going on in any given situation. You would
have to think that the ability of foreign investment in an Australian media business does actually expand the
available capital for that industry, as we have seen with Channel 10.

So Labor will not oppose this bill relating to a register of foreign ownership of media assets, which is already highly regulated and, certainly, considered a sensitive area—and rightly so.

I also note that this bill covers new assessment criteria for community radio. Of all the measures in it, that is what I would like to turn to now—the measures that look at radio localism for community radio.

Like many radio journalists—and I am not sure if my colleague sitting alongside me has the same experience—
I got a lot of my experience before getting my paid job by volunteering in community radio. Around 35 years
ago, I was cutting tape and editing documentaries while finishing my degree at what was then the Institute of
Technology in Sydney and working hard at 2SER FM, which continues to be one of Sydney's leading community
radio stations.

It's a vital component of our broadcasting landscape not just for aspiring journalists and program
makers but for those who have a passion for niche topics.

I recall that Phil Lasker, who's now at the ABC, discovered the joys of radio thanks to a collection of Polish jazz that he acquired that got him airtime on 2SER FM. Community radio has been a launching pad for a lot of journalists to further their craft, understand radio and get the experience they needed before they could get a paid job. For those reasons, I pay particular attention to things that happen around community radio.

In my electorate, community radio plays an important role in informing communities and providing members
with the chance to have their views heard. This legislation is all about adjusting the criteria which licence
applications and renewals are assessed against in order to match community expectations of that local community
radio service.

The amendment encourages community radio providers to have greater coverage of local issues
—that in itself is a good thing in many cases but is not always the sole purpose of that community broadcaster,
although in the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains this is a very welcome move—and to provide greater
opportunities for local participation in producing and hosting programs.

The legislation requires that, when assessing licence applications, the ACMA will consider the extent to which
proposed services will provide 'material of local significance'. Material of local significance can be defined as
material that is produced in, hosted in or relates to the licence area of the proposed licence.

In principle, that sounds great, but there are concerns about the wording that is being used in this legislation. Along with the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, we support the intent of the bill to strengthen the local bit in community radio but we are concerned about the wording. It's very broad and open to interpretation.

I note the sorts of broadcasting that might be impacted by this depending on how it is interpreted—for example, RPH radio, which is radio programming for Australians with a print disability. Does it really matter if any of those
criteria are met for that particular broadcaster? What is the impact of enforcing that? There are questions that
are open to interpretation here. They're the sorts of concerns that we have about this bill.

I have two community radio stations in my electorate: Radio Blue Mountains, which as the names suggest looks after the Blue Mountains side, and Hawkesbury Radio.

Radio Blue Mountains provides a wide range of programs on everything from business to environmental issues
to disability issues. There are some live broadcasts from community events, and it looks at politics both local and
on a wider scale. It covers a variety of music styles—jazz, country, rock, dance, blues and classical. All types—
you never quite know what you're going to get when you turn on. A shout-out for Retro Rehash, which is making
sure we get a great music program on a Saturday.

Unsurprisingly, Radio Blue Mountains steps up in emergencies—the Blue Mountains has its fair share of
bushfires, storms and winds—and provides an extra layer of local information in times of bushfires or any other
disaster. This is a community radio station that operates on the smell of an oily rag, as most of them do, and works
hard to meet the audience expectations of the upper Blue Mountains community. It's also providing training. I
would hope that this legislation won't change what it does, because it is already considered to be meeting the
community's requirements.

I turn to Hawkesbury Radio. I've had an insight into the world of community radio licences through a decision
by the ACMA to suspend the licence of Hawkesbury Radio a year or so ago and then share the temporary licence
amongst three broadcasters, giving them each a chance to demonstrate that they have met the criteria to be eligible for the permanent licence. I wish all the broadcasters well in what they're doing.

I just want to be clear about what I expect to see in a local community radio station: genuine local community
involvement in that station, with an output that reflects the diversity of the Hawkesbury community.

The challenge I think we have is that, the way I'm seeing it, the ACMA does not have the resources to turn on that
radio station and listen to it 24 hours a day. It's an unrealistic thing to expect. So they're driven by complaints
and feedback from the community, and I really hope that they engage strongly with the community to find out
the views of local community members about which of these stations is best fulfilling the needs as part of their
determination along this pathway.

I have a strong view that community radio should allow the exploration of local issues that might otherwise not
make it onto a more national media scene. There should be a range of perspectives offered. We should be able
to see young people involved and community interest groups involved; all those things would make a very rich
and vibrant broadcast across seven days.

When you only have one main local weekly paper published in your area, you actually need community radio to provide a different voice or, ideally, voices. I will continue to pay attention to legislation that comes before this place around community radio and, more generally, around media legislation.

Our voices are shrinking. The diversity of voices is shrinking. We have fragmentation and we have all sorts of changes, but above all we need to have strong, independent journalism that puts proper scrutiny across things that happen in this place and other places. With those comments, I commend the bill to the House.