This week in Parliament, Senator Stephen Conroy is debating reforms to the Australian Media sector. There has been significant debate around the internet and in the media on a number of key platforms in the Senator's legislation, in particular ownership of media outlets, concentration and reach of media outlets, and local content quotas. Now he seems hell bent on declaring ultimatums to Parliament: accept these reforms verbatim or they'll be dumped.
All of these issues have been something I have been passionate about for some time. I have been a passionate advocate of the media and of media diversity, but I have seen TV and Radio in Australia become completely homogenised and cheapened by tabloid fodder and brainless celebrity-based reality stunts. Local content on TV of any quality has been diminishing in both quality and in volume. Commercial radio objects to being forced to play Australian Music. They also believe their content is king, but the vacuous nature of their so-called "content" is a poor second or third priority to advertising revenue and ratings.
I don't begrudge the media outlets their profits. They need to be making money otherwise they will not survive. But when you see major profits in the hundreds of millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars being reported, it's hard to feel sorry for them. Are they reinvesting that money into local talent or just buying cheap imported product in order to keep the money rolling in? I'd suggest the latter.
It's the job of a government department to ensure that media outlets don't just trample over the competition and that they keep standards of broadcasting and content control intact. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has been charged with the job of regulating the industry but it is more like a toothless tiger when it comes to enforcing the rules. If the Senator's reforms give ACMA more power, that will be a bonus.
Media ownership has been the subject of much here-say and conjecture for a long time. The media outlets claim laws preventing them from concentrating ownership as akin to "censorship". I call "bullshit" on that premise. When you have companies like News Limited who have an obvious right-wing-conservative bias, owning more than one media outlet in a market, you run the risk of having a limiting of opinion and bias in reporting. You need to have a diversity of voices in the media, otherwise people run the risk of assuming what they hear is correct and true, when in fact it may be the opposite.
The relaxing of Australian content quotas in the media is particularly worrying. Australian content provides many people with their livelihood, not to mention the fact that there are so many Australian musicians out there that can't get their music played on commercial radio...or on any radio station for that matter.
Commercial radio has been complaining for years that local content quotas are unfair. Indeed, it was Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) CEO Joan Warner who claims that "Australian's don't make 25% of all the music being released, so why would you want to hear 1 in 4 Australian songs on the radio?" Why? Because once upon a time, radio played music on air. And, as we have a vibrant local music scene in this country, why wouldn't you play something locally produced? To say that Australians don't make that much music, then how do you explain the 31,000+ artists who have voluntarily submitted their music on the Triple J Unearthed website? For starters, they're just the bands who think they're Triple J worthy. I'm sure there are heaps who may not have bothered because they play styles of music that are more mainstream. For Joan to say "we can't find 1 in 4 Australian songs" is both ignorant and stupid, not to mention ill-informed. Joan's comments are the exact reason why the quotas are in place to begin with: because commercial radio won't play locally produced music. End of story.
I read recently that certain people in the radio industry actually believe that it is not their job to play Australian music, or to play music in general. They begrudge it because they think that Australian record labels and bands have gotten free publicity for too long and that they now should be paying to have their music played. A comment posted on this Radiotoday.com.au story ("Burned you black" by Dan Bradley) says this:
"Anyone in a record compnay ever think they might do what everyone else does and actually buy some radio advertising to sell thier product." (sic)
This maybe a blatant troll. Let's assume it's not for a minute. Without music on radio, what you have? Gratuitous amounts of ranting and raving old farts being abusive to people in between celebrity interviews and constant advertising and product promotions. Even without that, what are you left with? Yep, that's right: advertising. Who in their right mind is going to listen to a station full of ads?
Then Dan Bradley has the gall to claim that "Radio has the responsibility to support Australian music when it suits the format and where the quality is good enough..." Are you serious? There's more good Australian music out there than there is imported stuff. Major commercial stations just can't be bothered to find it and play it. There is a hell of a lot of crap that is imported and flogged on Commercial radio where an Australian song would be 100 times better than it. Like, hello 2Day-FM! Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown is NOT good music! There's a thousand Aussie musicians who can outclass their crap, but instead the vacuous sensationalist stuff gets flogged to death instead of anything of substance.
Sure there's a disproportionate amount of overseas releases compared to local ones, but how about getting radio programmers to look at the local ones first? Would that kill them? Surely, unless local product falls straight into their lap, they won't go and look for it. And it's not like the radio DJs have a hand in playing and breaking new records anymore. They're just the people who get to talk after the song has finished and push a button here and there. No, all music has to be researched by focus groups and the like, so that it all sounds the same.
The amount of product placement on commercial radio is crazy too. Even the Triple M sports broadcasts are unlistenable due to the amount of advertising played mid-stream. Just listen to the football on the weekend to hear the odds from Tom Waterhouse, the Brand W pitch report, the Brand X sideline report, the Brand Y scoreboard, the Brand Z stats, all within seconds of each other. They're all advertisements and they roll off the commentators tongues that fast they hope that the listener both hears it and doesn't get bored of it too. It's completely unnecessary and ridiculous.
The alternatives, thankfully are vibrant. Community radio is thriving with great stations around the country that anyone can listen to via Tunein.comFBI and 2SER in Sydney, 3PBS-FM and 3RRR in Melbourne, 4ZZZ in Brisbane, 6RTR-FM in Perth are all amazing radio stations that are all flying the flag for an alternative voice and great new music that is off the radar. However, with the digital switchover imminent, Community stations just don't have the financial resources to invest in new equipment and new transmission gear. Their future is undetermined at this time and I implore the government, whether the current Labor government or whoever is elected in September 2013 to ensure that all community stations in the country get to switch over to digital with the financial assistance they require.
I just hope that there can be a regulatory body that can deal with offensive idiots like Alan Jones, Vile Kyle and Ray Hadley when they cross the line. I just hope that diversity of voices can continue. I hope that future governments keep their hands off the ABC, steer clear of meddling with its editorial charter, and never ever dream of privatising it. I hope that digital multi-channels on both radio and TV formats cease to be a dumping ground of second-rate material and re-runs shown ad nauseum.
And I hope Australian content is finally given an arena to shine in the mainstream through Australian media outlets.
The Cheaper Than Rubies story on local music quotas.
CRA fighting local music quotas on FasterLouder.com
Let the arguments begin.