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What's Jai thinking?

2013, October, 16 Written by Jai Martinkovits 0

The state of the union movement in Australia

Following the Ex-HSU boss Michael Williamson's guilty plea, Jai Martinkovits speaks with 2UE's Dicko and Sarah about the state of the union movement in Australia.

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2013, October, 9 Written by Jai Martinkovits 0

One on One Shadow Boxing

Jai Martinkovits speaks with Tibor Meszaros about Give Us Back Our Country on West TV's "One on One Shadow Boxing".

Part 1

Part 2

2013, September, 3 Written by Jai Martinkovits 0

Help Community Television Serve the Community

WTV

Despite its vibrancy and diversity, government-controlled community television is struggling to survive in Australia.

The government's vision for community television is clearly not working and needs to be rethought. Their current policies are neither fair to those involved in community television, nor to the nation as a whole.

Not only have governments failed to support this crucial sector in any meaningful way, they have over regulated the industry to the point where it is bordering on being unable to support itself. To further burden those interested in community television, they have also failed to assure the future of community television broadcasting rights.

Community television clearly has a place in the Australian media.

Each month more than five million Australians tune in to community television which fosters and delivers specialised and unique community-based content, including local news and current affairs, financial literacy, music, sports, special interests and Australian drama and comedy.

Community television stations are located in our major Australian cities, causing a considerable amount of high level Australian content to be produced locally.

For example, West TV in Perth boasts that it has six flagship locally-produced weekly half-hour programmes – a commendable result.

The importance of this contribution is understood when we know that outside of West TV there are very few television programmes produced in Western Australia.

Even the very generously taxpayer funded ABC only manages to produce one five minute news report per day and one episode of the 7.30 Report per week locally, on Western Australia.

This is a sad indictment for publicly funded television when one considers the vast financial contribution that Western Australia makes to the Australian economy.

Our other taxpayer funded entity (which is also allowed to sell advertising), the SBS, does not even have a WA based office or telephone number. The commercial stations offer a local daily news bulletin, but very little other WA-based content.

This raises a significant question. When the government – in what is widely perceived as an attempt to buy support of their media reform package – greatly reduced the license fee for commercial stations, why did they not simultaneously increase the requirement for state based news and current affairs?

Whatever one's views on the merits of the "reforms", by not doing this they lost a golden opportunity to gain popular support from the creative sector of the media.

Not only do these community television stations provide an important community service – that is giving a voice to local communities that would otherwise never be heard – they are an essential incubator of Australian creative talent, both behind and in front of the camera.

Yet their very survival is teetering on a knife's edge; and in a country that is committed to funding public television, this is clearly a gaping weakness in the policy.

Unlike the generous taxpayer funding especially of the ABC, but also of the SBS, the community television sector as a whole receives no recurrent funding from state or federal governments.

At the same time, the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF) – an independent organisation financed by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (BCDE) – receives a substantial amount of money from the federal government to support the development, creativity and sustainability of community broadcasting in Australia.

After former Minister Stephen Conroy's recent announcement of an extra $6 million over three years to help with upgrading equipment and improving digital radio services, it seems that government funding of community broadcasting is now in excess $15 million per year.

The CBF, which according to its annual report for 2011/12 received $15,320,933 in funding from the DBCDE, has for the past two years quarantined $300,000 for content production for community television broadcast.

However, this is mere chicken feed, especially considering the significantly greater capital and operating costs compared to those of community radio, as well as the larger audiences they attract.

"Access to the broadcast tower alone costs us $22,000 per month – a crippling cost for which we receive no assistance," Tibor Meszaros, General Manager of West TV Ltd told me recently.

"The present funding arrangements of the community broadcasting sector, which could be altered solely on ministerial direction, are highly unfair," he continued.

Until such time as an alternate funding model emerges and without in any way increasing the well over $2 billion communications budget, a relatively small amount of, say, $6 million could be allocated each year for community television.

This could be used to provide $4 million for assistance with transmission and operational costs. And the remaining $2 million could constitute a production pool, accessible by all stations and community members who wish to create productions for community television broadcast.

What better way to assure quality production of local content and on a shoestring budget – especially compared to their publicly owned and very well funded counterparts at the ABC and the SBS?

Those who care for the development of Australian arts and culture will also be surprised to learn that not only has government failed to assist community television in any meaningful way, they have subjected the sector cumbersome regulation – regulation which is often more onerous than their commercial counterparts.

For example, community television is only allowed to broadcast seven minutes of paid sponsorship per hour, while commercial television may broadcast double this amount through advertising.

This is despite the fact that of all the free-to-air TV stations in Australia, community television stations have the greatest difficulty in sustaining themselves. Surely community television stations should be allowed parity with the commercial stations' advertising?

The federal government should also ensure a more stable and secure environment for community television.

At the moment, these stations are only guaranteed access to the digital spectrum until December 31, 2014. Such an uncertain future poses significant operational and organisational issues for community television managers, preventing long-term planning and investment and hampering their attempts to engage the community.

In March 2013 the government announced the media reform package, promising that "government will secure spectrum for community television on the sixth channel".

However, the legislation failed to give certainty to the future of community television.  It only guaranteed that a sixth channel "should not be allocated to create a fourth commercial television network".

In order to provide a certain future for community television, any organisation which is licensed to operate the sixth channel should have as a condition of its licence that it must carry community television services.

Access should be available at no cost or a nominal cost. This should be affordable to community television licensees and would recognise the not-for-profit nature of the services.

In recognition of the importance of community television to Australian arts and culture, government should take steps to assure the future of this important sector. They should stop over regulating it, give it some sense of security and work out fairer funding arrangements to ensure its survival.

[This article was originally published on watoday.com.au on 3 September 2013 and can be accessed here: http://www.watoday.com.au/comment/community-tv-in-wa-is-on-a-knife-edge-20130902-2t071.html]

2013, August, 12 Written by Jai Martinkovits 0

Kevin Rudd – Protecting his hide, not empowering the people

Based on first-hand experience, I have come to the conclusion that Kevin Rudd does not trust the common sense, good judgement and decency of the average Australian.

And although masked by feel-good notions of empowering the people, Rudd’s party “reforms” – which are now collapsing in tatters – are really about protecting his own hide and motivated by his insatiable appetite for revenge.

These conclusions were made clear to me following my recent involvement in Joe Hildebrand’s mini-series for ABC2 – “Shitsville Express”. In the final episode, we had the opportunity to articulate frankly and honestly our “big idea” to solve what we believe to be the biggest problems facing the nation today.  We were to pitch our vision to a group of captive schoolchildren, in the presence of the soon-to-be-recycled prime minister, Kevin Rudd.

When it was my turn to spill my “big idea” – which is to make our politicians truly accountable by empowering the rank-and-file between elections – he rejected it outright. Although it was once Labor policy, it is clear that he does not believe Australians can be trusted to apply their good judgment to make common sense decisions in the best interests of our nation. Typical of his class, it would seem he believes he is superior to the average elector.

Australians are increasingly disappointed in our politicians. So it is not a surprise that, whilst holding a gun to the heads of the faceless men, Kevin would try to secure his occupancy of the top job. At the same time he is falsely presenting this to the people as a solution to their concerns. However he has failed to address the principle, but not the only problem in the ALP – that is the blatant gerrymander through the bloc votes the union bosses control. Remember, union bosses are no longer real workers who have risen from the shop floor. Instead, they are factional apparatchiks – inner city elites – parachuted in to do the factions bidding.

Leaving the party to the faceless men leads not only to bad government, but to corruption – and that applies to the other mob too. This will inevitably attract an ICAC style investigation.

Although Kevin Rudd is still riding a honeymoon period, his resurrection will change nothing. It is a hoax to suggest that changing a prime minister is the same as changing the government. We must remember that Australia does not operate under a presidential system – and the proof is in the pudding. The policies which have been applied over the last six years have all been faithfully supported by Kevin Rudd, whether as prime minister, a minister or a back bencher. They are policies of the Labor party, with the prime minister only the first amongst equals.

If Kevin Rudd is genuine about empowering rank-and-file Australians, he would, at the very least, introduce some form of US style primary – that is allowing rank-and-file Labor supporters a direct say in the pre-selection of their local candidate. In fact, all sides of politics should have candidates who are chosen on merit, not for their allegiance to some faceless powerbrokers.

Australians would flock in droves to the political party which demonstrates true leadership by becoming open, democratic and transparent and by putting their money where their mouth is. This will be by showing they are serious about making politicians truly accountable. And not just in blank cheque election every three or four years, but on every day, of every week, of every month and of every year. Just as Australians are in their jobs.

Jai Martinkovits is is Executive Director of CANdo and recently co-authored "Give Us Back Our Country" with Professor David Flint, published by Connor Court. Follow Jai on Twitter at @jaimartinkovits. 

[This article first appeared on www.MenziesHouse.com.au. To access the article, click here]

Jai Martinkovits