Election Advertising Blackout cuts radio revenue

In the past 24 hours the radio industry has lost tens of thousands of dollars worth of election advertising because of the electronic media election advertising blackout. And tomorrow and Saturday it will lose as much again.

Advertising money which might have been spent on commercial radio advertising and community radio sponsorship, and on television, has been channeled into the print media, because only newspapers can accept advertising in the three days before an election.

The electronic media advertising blackout is enshrined in the legislation of the Broadcasting Services Act, which goes back to the second world war. No one contacted by radioinfo can justify it on any rational equal footing with newspapers.

The Australian Electoral Commission referred radioinfo to ‘Background Paper Number 5,’ which explains how to implement the blackout, but does not explain why newspapers are not treated in the same way as electronic media.

The background paper explains that the blackout is to allow a “cooling off period” in the campaign, but does not say why voters do not need to be “cooled off” from press ads. It also discusses the high cost of television advertising, but completely leaves out any discussion of the cost of print advertising. Click below to see the full AEC document.

One source in government, who did not wish to be named, said the deal goes back many decades to a time when newspaper proprietors lobbied successfully to safeguard their revenue sources in the face of the growing power of the electronic media. At that time there was a ban on discussing all election matters in the few days before the election, not just advertising. Later the ban was softened to only include advertising.

The big story today has been John Howard’s Tasmania speech, where he successfully played wedge politics and won the support of traditional Labor voting forestry workers by promising some preservation of old growth forests without job losses.

The Tasmanian newspapers today were full of the story and the high profile party advertising which surrounded it, while Sea FM, Magic, HO FM, 7LA and other Tasmania radio stations were no longer able to play the successful party ads that swamped the airwaves over the past seven days.

The Hobart Mercury today carried a total of three and a half pages of political advertising today at $4,500 per black and white page. The Examiner in Launceston, where the PM’s rally was held, carried five and a half pages of political ads, at $4,000 per page. Total electoral advertising spend on those two papers in Tasmania was nearly $38,000 today.

In Sydney and Melbourne, where full page black and white ad rates for the Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph are $25,000 per page, the haul was even bigger.

When filling in their electoral returns for the AEC next week, perhaps radio stations should point out the restraint of trade implications and the anti-competitive nature of this archaic electoral rule and ask for a rethink before it all happens again at the next election.

On election night all talk radio networks are mounting special coverage of the election from 6pm until a result is reached, and FM stations will increase their number of news updates to cover the results.