In the one state where the Coalition is well ahead of Labor in the polls, Malcolm Turnbull is booting a major source of West Australian TV content, including local current affairs, off the airwaves.
His timing is exquisite. West TV - Perth's highly successful community TV station - will fade from TV screens just as the 2016 election year opens. And if this is to be the fate of community TV, he must be eyeing the spectrum occupied by community radio. It won't be a popular decision.
"Perth's West TV broadcasts a huge variety of programs every day, from live, locally-produced shows like #theBuzz and Shadow Boxing, through to news, views and Australian movies," its energetic general manager Tibor Meszaros says.
"While the commercial stations, SBS and the ABC are more and more broadcasting out of Sydney, 90 per cent of programmes are genuine Australian content."
And in a state which feels with some justification that its contribution is not recognized in the East and that it raises the taxes and Canberra spends them, he points out with some pride that an extraordinary amount of West TV's Australian content - 30 per cent - is in fact West Australian produced.
Meszaros says the situation in Australian TV is even worse than the statistics suggest.
"A lot of what's coming out of Sydney is little more than franchised foreign content masquerading as Aussie," he laments.
He point out that with increasing concentration in the media, now is the time to be encouraging diversity on the spectrum, not closing it down.
Turnbull has unilaterally decreed that West TV and the other capital city community TV stations must move off the free-to air spectrum by the end of 2015.
Observers are contrasting his toughness with community TV to the way he handles the ABC. Conservative voters are up in arms, and especially in the West over the taxpayer funded ABC's very left wing agenda in current affairs. They're suggesting Turnbull should follow Bob Hawke, who once read the Riot Act to the ABC.
And when it comes to the heavy weights in commercial TV, Turnbull is delaying reform of the cross media and the maximum reach rules until there is a "high level of consensus" in the industry. He denies this means that he is waiting until the media moguls agree on what the reforms should be.
Turnbull explains that he is taking aim at community TV because its ratings are low. Meszaros will have none of that.
"Over 80,000 unique viewers watch West TV every day. An average of 500,000 non-accumulative unique viewers watch West TV each month," he says citing an OTAM audit of Perth viewers.
"We are a West Australian non-profit community based operation dependent on paid advertising like the commercial stations."
"There's a difference with commercial broadcasters. Our feature films have no commercial breaks. We have less ad breaks in normal programming and they are shorter."
If Turnbull is concerned about the ratings, he should really look at the ratings of some of the commercial and ABC's extra digital channels. When digital TV was introduced, instead of giving a broadcaster a replacement channel in digital, they were given a very wide bandwidth. The justification was that they had to broadcast for a few hours of High Definition TV.
The result of this was that just about all the spectrum was used up for this and for this and other spurious purposes. As a result there was magically no room for anyone interested in establishing a competing network. Some cynics even say this was the real reason for what was seen internationally as a peculiar manoeuvre.
The problem is that when they are not broadcasting in HD, there is a dearth of content for the spare channels. When they are on that they are filled with low rating programmes.
So what is Turnbull doing about this? He could follow a precedent set by his predecessor, Senator Conroy.
Realising the broadcasters have a lot of flab, he leant on SBS to give up one of its channels to accommodate a different source, NITV, National Indigenous TV indigenous television. Minister Turnbull could similarly lean on the ABC to give up to community TV one of its surplus channels which it closes early and fills with repeat programs.
This would answer another criticism that Turnbull has raised about community TV. Its only available in the capital cities. If Turnbull did what Conroy did, stations like West TV could be seen outside of the capital. Meszaros is interested in not only broadcasting to the regions, but unleashing local talent in the same way West TV has done in Perth.
But Turnbull is insistent. So what does Turnbull propose for West TV's many viewers? Like a latter day Marie Antoinette, his response is "Let them watch the internet."
But unlike the unlimited broadband access ministers have, the average TV viewer can hardly watch TV on the internet - if they have it at home. Meszaros and other community broadcaster have come back to the Minister to point out that if he needs their spectrum to sell off to help the government's problem in balancing the budget, there is a simple answer.
If the existing broadcasters moved to the MPEG-4 format, they could conduct their present operations including HD with a reduced bandwidth. This format is used in many countries. Channel 9 experimented with it for its 3-D broadcasts of the 2012 Olympics. The minister is already encouraging broadcasters to move to MPEG-4 with a view to releasing even more spectrum, presumably for sale.
There was never any good case for pushing community TV and presumably community radio off the spectrum.
Now with MPEG-4 on the horizon, the case for doing this has disappeared completely. With the coming Federal election, the strangling of West TV and other community stations, and the fear he'll be eyeing community radio, won't be a vote winner.
Professor David Flint and Jai Martinkovits jointly authored Give Us Back Our Country 2nd Edition (Connor Court, 2014).
[This article was first published at: http://www.watoday.com.au/comment/what-happens-to-west-tv--and-its-viewers--without-freetoair-20141010-1142zc.html#ixzz3FmNmwuVd]
Are the grocery juggernauts beyond control? The Australian grocery market is among the most concentrated in the Western world, with Coles and Woolworths controlling 92% of the $111 billion retail food market. With the connivance of the politicians, the chains also are acquiring larger slices of the petrol and liquor markets.
Having made a vigorous entry into the insurance industry, Coles is now teaming up with with GE Capital Australia to offer credit cards and “personal finance products” to its 8.8 million customers. In a statement announcing the joint venture, Coles said the partnership would “deliver innovative financial services to the Australian market … with the additional value and benefits of Flybuys’ award-winning loyalty program, including money off your groceries at Coles.”
As yet there has been no indication that Coles will be offering mortgages, but only the naive would assume its ambitions will see no a further expansion. Wherever the grocery giants see potential in leveraging their dominance of the grocery market to move into other areas it is a sure bet they will — unless, of course, politicians and regulators show some backbone and do their jobs.
The grocery mammoths have already used their market dominance to damage and destroy competition, and to extract near-monopoly prices from consumers and suppliers.
Let’s be very clear about what is happening. Prices paid to farmers and processors are pushed down, not to benefit consumers but to enrich the Big Two. It is elementary that, without real competition, the firms will lift consumer prices, the direct consequence being that Australian consumers pay higher prices than in most other comparable markets.
The politicians made their position very clear when, in 2006, a bill was introduced to allow shopper-docket discounts. The politicians allowed this when a retailer provides discounts to a supermarket customer for, say, petrol or liquor purchased at an outlet owned by the retailer.
The petrol discount is a sleight of hand, a confidence trick. We pay more at the grocery outlet to get discounts at the petrol station. Once the independent petrol retailers have been forced out of business, prices will go up sure as supermarket eggs.
Surely the politicians knew their decision would drive out of business independent petrol stations and liquor stores. Indeed, it is hard to believe it was designed to do precisely that? So why was it introduced and passed? Was it incompetence, or was it that our politicians wish to destroy small business?
The latest move is for Coles to use its market power to enter the financial market. Using the shopper-docket precedent, consumers will pay more for groceries to facilitate the illusion that credit cards are cheaper. Next, expect a move into home mortgages. And, once they have dealt with the competition, they’ll make sure you’ll pay more for your mortgages.
Will our politicians and regulators allow this? Past experience suggests they will — another reason to make politicians truly accountable.
[This article was first published on Quadrant Online:http://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2014/07/mortgages-available-aisle-4/]
Young Australians value our constitutional monarchy - or crowned republic - for a variety of reasons.
The SMH's Peter Munro explores this in today's Good Weekend magazine. He speaks with a number of young constitutional monarchists about those aspects which are important to them.
To read the full article, click here: http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/the-royal-we-20140602-39d0j.html
Check out this panel discussion on Studio 10 about the upcoming Royal Visit.
I note that our crowned republic is fully autonomous. Immigrants have adopted as their own our fundamental institutions and we have built a very successful nation on that basis. It would be an ill conceived proposal to simply dispense with what we've got, unless you're going to replace it with something better - and we're not seeing that coming from the republicans any time soon.
To watch the interview, please click here: http://tenplay.com.au/channel-ten/studio-10/extra/season-2013/3-apr--the-royals-debate
Jai Martinkovits speaks with SWR FM's Brendan Leggett about the recent appointment of Sir Peter Cosgrove as Australia's 26th Governor General and the decision again to have Australian Dames & Knights by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Jai also speaks about the need to introduce into Australia the tools of Direct Democracy.
To hear Jai's interview, please click here.