NewsRadio Senate question

In the Senate this week Senator Alston answered a question on notice about NewsRadio. It also touched on the government’s plans for the reintroduction of the new Media Bill.

Senator Webber asked the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, upon notice, on 6 June 2003:

(1) Is the Minister aware that ABC NewsRadio cannot be heard anywhere in Western Australia outside Perth.

(2) Can the Minister advise whether there are any plans to expand the ABC NewsRadio network to cover the rural and regional areas of Western Australia.

Senator Alston said: The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:

(1) Yes, I am aware that terrestrial based reception of the ABC’s NewsRadio service is presently limited to those areas of the Perth region that are able to receive the service that is transmitted on AM 585 kHz from a site at Hamersley.

The Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1946 requires that the proceedings of the Senate and House of Representatives (or a Joint Sitting) be broadcast in each State capital, Canberra and Newcastle. Parliament is currently broadcast to these cities as well as Darwin, the Gold Coast and Gosford on the ABC’s Parliamentary and News Network (PNN). When Parliament is not in session, PNN provides listeners with access to NewsRadio.

PNN is, however, available to all Australians (including those Western Australians who are unable to access the Perth region service terrestrially) via satellite based reception. This reception option would involve the installation and maintenance of: (a) a PNN self-help retransmission service by a Council or community group; or (b) direct-to-home (DTH) satellite reception equipment by an individual or household.

Under the self-help arrangements, a community (in the form of a Council or community group) funds the provision of a local rebroadcast transmission service. In order to establish such a service, the following would need to be installed at a suitable site: a transmitter, a dish to receive the relevant program feed from the satellite and an antenna to radiate the new self-help service to the community. Once established, the Council or community group would be responsible for meeting any ongoing licensing, operations and maintenance costs associated with the service. Individuals or households who wish to pursue the DTH option would need to purchase and install the necessary reception equipment (a satellite receive dish and an integrated receiver decoder) at an approximate cost of $1300 to $1800, depending on the size of the dish required.

In addition to the above reception options, NewsRadio can be heard live on the Internet 24 hours a day – even when Parliament is being broadcast on the air in Australia – via the ABC’s website at:

Parliamentary broadcasts can also be accessed live on the Internet via the Parliament House website …

(2) The future extension of any national broadcaster radio or television service is dependent on the provision of appropriate funding and the availability of suitable spectrum capacity. Funding for such extensions would generally need to be considered by the Government in the Budget context and in light of competing priorities for the extension of national broadcasting services to other regions.

On 20 June 2003, I announced that if the Government received the Senate’s support for its media ownership reforms, it would commit the necessary funding to extend ABC NewsRadio to all transmission areas with more than 10,000 people, subject to spectrum availability.

This would provide a significant enhancement of diversity of news and opinion, by providing up to 62 areas of regional Australia with new or improved access to a dedicated national news service.

If suitable capacity proved to be available for the NewsRadio extension program to proceed as proposed, the ABC has estimated that it would improve NewsRadio’s penetration rate in Western Australia from 76% to 90% and involve extensions to: Broome, Bunbury, Central Agricultural, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Karratha, Port Hedland and Southern Agricultural.

As you would be aware, the House of Representatives laid the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2002 aside on 26 June 2003 after rejecting some of the Senate’s amendments. The Government expects to reintroduce the Bill into the Senate later this year.

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