Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 2 Hansard (20 February) . . Page.. 384..
MS GALLAGHER (continuing):
It relates to the obligation these companies have to the communities from whom they gain their earnings and profits. In November 2001, Canberra experienced the second closure of a local news service that year, with the closure of the Ten Capital news. Five months earlier, in June 2001, Prime Television had also closed their local news service to the region. In total, approximately 36 local jobs were lost in these closures.
The ACT was not the only community affected by these closures. Prime also cut news in Wollongong and Newcastle, while Southern Cross Broadcasting, the owners of Capital Television, cut their news in Cairns, Townsville, Darwin and Central Australia. The impact of such decisions on the communities involved cannot be underestimated, and is felt in a number of ways. Clearly, the employees working in those newsrooms and associated jobs, be they journalists, presenters, news camera operators, graphics staff or others, are made redundant at a personal cost.
In the recent Southern Cross Broadcasting exercise, roughly 60 people were made redundant in the Canberra, Cairns and Townsville stations. While those individuals are forced to take redundancies and look for alternative work, the community is left with reduced services from companies that hold privileged positions. I say privileged, Mr Speaker, because they have licences to broadcast free-to-air television in the community, and are guaranteed no further competition until 2007, under the current federal government deal made in the transition to digital broadcasting.
The ACT government will make a submission to the ABA inquiry, and I am pleased that this is the case. The need to regulate this industry is clear, and any ACT government submission should address the obligations that the industry owes loyal communities such as the ACT in return for government subsidies and the privilege of exercising broadcast licences.
This very privileged position gives these businesses the luxury of limited competition and, it appears, no real obligation to put anything back into the community, such as through the provision of local news or other locally produced programs, be it sport, cultural events or postcard-type programs.
The reality for commercial broadcasting is that cutting local content in this fashion is a highly profitable venture, as major networking programming is re-broadcast with revenue collected from the advertising. This occurs with no corresponding requirement to put something back into the community or respect the needs and rights of employees in the field.
The decision to cut the news broadcasts in all areas late last year was made on a purely commercial basis, by parent companies based in Sydney or Melbourne, with no real understanding of, or regard to, the community in which they operate, or the needs of their workforces. A couple of cents on the share price for a few days appears more important than the community from which they gain their earnings.
In each case, with Prime and Ten Capital, the companies are profitable. It is not the situation that they are in the red, or risking collapse; it is a question merely of how much profit is to be made. The argument raised by Prime and Ten Capital to justify their