Regional commercial radio stations ‘critical to our social fabric’

Labor MP for the Hunter region Joel Fitzgibbon talked about the importance of regional commercial radio today on 2SM, 2HD and statios on the Super Radio Network.

Speaking to Marcus Paul, Fitzgibbon talked about the importance of balanced responsible media in regional Australia, and the significance of commercial networks such as Bill Caralis’ Supernetwork.

Marcus Paul made the point that Supernetwork is quite often “one of the only commercial voices in regional Australia, and I don’t think the Government’s doing enough to assist us.”

Joel Fitzgibbon responded:That is absolutely true Marcus, and this is not an issue that has snuck up on us. This has been in play, a problem, confronting us for at least the last six or seven years. And of course, COVID-19 has just made this situation worse. But you’re absolutely correct. The ABC is often praised for its community broadcasting in the event of drought and bushfires and floods et cetera, and that is true and I too praise them, but in my experience commercial radio plays just as important a role in the regions and that needs to be recognised. 

Marcus PAUL: Absolutely. The other difference of course between ourselves and Auntie is that local businesses can’t advertise on the ABC, that’s why it’s important to have a vibrant and very well equipped and funded commercial radio sector. Look I know we’re a business, I understand that. But then again so are Qantas and so are Virgin – they’re struggling and they have their hands out. A number of other industries have their hands out. Why is it the Government seems to be forgetting about us, if you like. I mean we are being turned to by so many more Australians. Some of the figures are staggering at the moment. I’ve been in touch with Commercial Radio Australia and they tell us that nearly twenty five per cent of all Australians, 18-plus, are now listening to more radio because of what we’re currently going through.

Joel FITZGIBBON:  I’m sure that’s true. And radio will be with us for the foreseeable future and I think potentially forever. We still drive our cars to work and we listen to the radio. We in the garden and we’re listening to the radio. It’s a really important platform. But we want a diversity of voices, too, so we need a mix of media platforms providing us with our news and information. We don’t want it coming entirely from digital platforms where aggregators turn them effectively into fake news. And we want local content.

I’ve been in public life for more than thirty years, first as a councillor on Cessnock City Council and now twenty-four years in the Parliament and in all of that time I’ve written local newspaper columns and I’ve done all of my news presentations – you know, news grabs every morning, on local ABC and commercial radio stations. NEW FM in Newcastle, 2NM in Muswellbrook. Now they’re important platforms for me to get my message and the government or opposition message out to the local community on local issues. Issues that are really important to the local community but not necessarily so significant to be getting a run on the Sydney radio stations, for example.

These are critical to our social fabric and really, more than anything, our commercial radio stations are asking for is a level playing field. Now at the moment they don’t have that. Their content is being raked away by these digital platforms which are unregulated effectively, while at the same time our commercial radio stations face a whole plethora of regulations – content rules, Broadcasting Services Act, Commercial Radio Code of Conduct, the Disclosure Standards, election advertising blackouts where you lose revenue and the social media platforms can continue to advertise right up until election day. These are all inconsistencies the Government should addressed some time ago. 

PAUL: There’s been a little bit of an offer, as we know, in relation I guess to a 50 million dollar Public Interest News Gathering Program, there’s also been a waiver of spectrum taxes for up to twelve months. But I’ve told that’s not going to go anywhere near far enough in addressing the pressures facing the radio industry. I mean what about – for instance – a waiver of licensing fees over the next twelve months. I mean this industry is bleeding. We are very lucky here at the Super Network in that, I guess, we’re in a much stronger position than a number of other players, but I’m hearing operators like the Southern Cross Austereo, they used to be… they used to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, now you can buy the entirety of their shares for under eighty million. I mean it’s incredible what’s happening.

FITZGIBBON: Before I respond I should have mentioned local sport, Marcus, which is really important in our regional communities and delivered by our commercial radio stations. Look, all of those initiatives already taken by the Government are welcomed, and some more relief on the financial side in direct response to COVID-19 would be welcomed, but we really do need to address the structural issues. The problems that were with us well before COVID-19 and which will be with us after COVID-19. And those structural issues basically go to your intellectual property and the way your content is being stolen away from you, without any fee for service; the way your news is being aggregated and in some cases misrepresented; and your revenue streams being dragged away from you as a result of that. And of course we need to level that playing field so if you going be regulated so too should your competitors.










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