The long running farce of the pre-election blackout, more farcical now than ever

Comment from Peter Saxon.

Set the ‘Wayback”, machine to the 20th Century and picture, if you will, some ancient parliamentary committee charged with the task of spicing up the media laws around election time… a pinch of salt here, a tea spoon of red herring there. Perhaps after a long liquid luncheon’s journey into nightcap, they decided, in their intoxicated wisdom, to stop all political advertising at midnight on the Wednesday before polling day, on Saturday.

The “logic” behind this notion, now enshrined in the Broadcasting Services Act of 1992 (BSA), was to give the long-suffering citizenry a well-earned break from the constant bombardment of political spruikers… a sort of cooling off period before finally filling out the ballot paper. Yeah, right. As if the average punter would thus be encouraged to sit cross-legged for hours in quiet contemplation, seeking spiritual guidance as to the momentous task before them.

Mind you, given that I was ready to quit the country, move to Ukraine and fight Putin’s army rather than be subjected to another bloody Clive Palmer ad, I can see a smidgen of merit in their argument.

Nonetheless, the notion of a government restricting what should be freely available information in a democratic country, no matter how benevolent it purports to be, is plain wrong and reeks of a nanny state.

What I could never understand, though, is why the blackout only applied to electronic media, i.e. radio and television, but not print. That was then, this is now. And with the advent of social media (which, if I am not mistaken is also electronically disseminated) the farce has become more farcical than ever.

While still half asleep, Friday morning with the radio on in the background, I was jolted upright when I heard an election ad. Hang on, weren’t we in blackout mode since Thursday morning? What the…?

Then it was pointed out to me by my good wife Pauline, who was well awake and fully compos mentis by this time, that because our old fashioned digital radio had shuffled off its mortal coil some months ago, we were now listening to radio content through a different, more modern platform, the RadioApp which is considered to be online where the blackout rules do not apply – which, to my mind, only serves to make the blackout rules look sillier than they already do. 

The new Commercial Radio (CRA) Chief, Ford Ennals agrees, “The blackout is wholly unfair and unnecessary and clearly well past its use-by date.”

 Then, literally, as I was typing this story up on Friday evening, my mobile phone went ping and thus the full flagrant folly of this farce was foist upon me. In a reflex action, I looked at my screen – it was a message from UAP – Clive Palmer’s party. It seemed to be authorised by Craig Kelly (main pic from facebook). It read…

Australia transferring all AU hospital & health to World Health Org immediately

Stop them

Vote 1 United Australia Party

Click for more

Leaving aside the morality of spreading disinformation of this calibre in the hope of attracting the mad conspiracy theorists’ vote, how does Palmer and Kelly get to use my personal, private phone that I pay for as their media platform of choice? On what website in hell did I sign up to receive this crap from these ratbags? And why can’t I opt out? Why is this not classified as SPAM and the perpetrators fined?

In a fit of futile pique, I replied, “(Expletive deleted) off out of my phone, you lying (expletive deleteds).” Futile? Perhaps? But I felt better. Ain’t “freedom” grand?

If I listen to a commercial outlet, that’s my choice – well aware that by doing so, I agree to be exposed to a range of advertising for products and services, interspersed with content that I’ve chosen to listen to or watch. 

If any media should be blacked out during elections – or any other unsolicited advertising at any time – it should be private phones, not radio or television.

Mr Ennals also told radioinfo, “In its review of the conduct of the 2019 federal election, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) described the media blackout as no longer fit for purpose. This sort of media blackout is not implemented in the UK and CRA will continue to raise this issue strongly with whichever party wins Government.”

After hearing compelling arguments from all sectors of radio and television in 2019, it seems the JSCEM was already leaning towards leveling the playing field for radio and television three years ago but has yet to act.

You can read those compelling arguments here.

Update: If Craig Kelly who, as a member of the Liberal Party won the seat of Hughes with a 53.2% majority in 2019, hoped to hold the seat as the leader of the United Australia Party, he will be disappointed this morning having attracted just 7.5% of the vote in Saturday’s election.

With his benefactor, Clive Palmer, having spent an estimated $100 million without a seat to show for it, it goes to support the old adage: ‘The best way to kill off a bad product is to give it good advertising.’

Of course, what’s “good” is in the eyes of the consumer not the advertiser.

Peter Saxon

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