Communications department absorbed by giant pothole of policy

Comment from Peter Saxon and special guest, Tim Burrowes.

To paraphrase T.S. Eliot from his aptly named poem, The Hollow Men:

This is the way a Communications Department ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.

At a planning meeting for year’s end we were looking through the stats for radioinfo’s most read articles of 2019. 
Without wishing to spoil the final rankings, which will be published before New Year, among them was our exclusive on Brian Carlton’s defection to Triple M in Hobart, Robin Bailey’s tragic reason for exiting Triple M in Brisbane and our scoop on MacRadio stalwart George Moore’s handing in his notice on-air, and his reason for doing so.
In over 20 years of publication, what’s clear to us is that our readers are generally drawn to stories about people, how our industry affects them and how they reconcile their careers with life in the real world – the non-radio world that is ruled by family, mortgages, health etc. While some of our readers are appreciative of our coverage of corporate affairs, share prices, takeover bids, annual reports and such, our stats show that these are not the topics that excite our readers and generate huge numbers.
Yet, here I was on Saturday morning preparing an opinion piece on the low-key announcement by the Federal Government a few days ago that it will disband the Department of Communications and Arts. I was doing this knowing full well that most of our readers probably wouldn’t give a stuff. Why not? Are we not at all perturbed that our government no longer considers that media, the arts and telephony merit their own department, with the attendant minister to blame when things go awry?
I’d barely put index fingers to keyboard when Mumbrella Content Director, Tim Burrowes’ weekly missive, And another thing… hit my inbox. Shock, horror, he’d stolen my whimper and had written a piece I couldn’t have written better myself. So, I thought, why bother?
Instead, I contacted Tim who, being such a good sport, was kind enough to permit us to reproduce his thoughts here on radioinfo: 
End of the department
Meanwhile, a political manoeuvre that might in other circumstances have been met with outrage passed by with barely a ripple this week. The government abolished the Department of Communications and Arts, folding it into the new super ministry of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.
But it’s hard to be sad about the end of the department, so invisible was its contribution to media policy.
Under comms minister Mitch Fifield and more recently Paul Fletcher, the department was a timid and supine bureaucracy where modern media policy should have been. A politically expedient cosiness with the big media companies was the priority.
The lack of leadership over changes to the media ownership laws was only overcome when the media companies were forced to put their own heads together and achieve consensus which Fifield then rubber stamped. The wider public interest didn’t get a look in.
And the only other significant policy the department seemed to have was around the NBN, a disappointing, compromised rollout of what could have been a nation-changing idea if the politics could have been removed.
But there always seemed to be a vacuum in the back corridors of the department. There was never evidence of clever policy brains thinking big thoughts about what media policy would benefit Australia. Let the market – and the ACCC platforms inquiry – sort things out seemed to be the small target thinking.
On the face of it, subsuming media policy into the same department responsible for building roads potentially reduces the scope to little more than overseeing NBN policy.
But perhaps – looking for the positive, as is apparently now my duty – this might create an opportunity for a new department culture, and one that doesn’t hold the status quo quite so dearly.

Tim Burrowes
Content Director – Mumbrella
Couldn’t have said it better myself…

Peter Saxon
Managing Editor




Tags: |