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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 2 Hansard (20 February) . . Page.. 385 ..

MS GALLAGHER (continuing):

decision-that limited resources, a flat economy and the transition to digital television were major costs that had to be offset by these actions-is clearly suspect.

Southern Cross Broadcasting, the parent company of Ten Capital, announced annual profits of $19 million last year. With the announcement about cutting news services, Southern Cross Shares rose and paid a handsome rise in dividend, reported to be 27c per share.

The conversion to digital will cost Capital $55 million to $60 million in outlays but, to offset these costs, Capital will receive $57 million in taxpayers' funds from the federal government. Revenue in regional Australia remains strong, refuting the claims of broadcasters. As the Prime Television annual report for 2000-2001 states:

Prime earns some 30% of its revenue base from regional advertisers. Their spending remains solid because of the underlying strength of the regional economies.

Communities such as the ACT, and other regions, have invested funds and displayed consumer loyalty to ACT broadcasters. Where is the obligation attached to these benefits to ensure that community standards and local content are protected? At some stage the question has to be asked: when do the obligations of these privileged operators to the local communities begin? It is the responsibility of this government to take the lead in ensuring community needs are not abrogated by the commercial imperative of broadcasters.

The Australian Broadcasting Authority has recognised the substantial community concern, not only in Canberra, but also around the country, and has called an inquiry into the news closures.

Specifically, the ABA has decided to conduct an investigation pursuant to part 13, division 2, of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 into:

(a) the adequacy of the contribution by commercial television broadcasting licensees in regional and rural Australia to cover matters of local significance;

(b) community concerns about whether coverage of local news and information by commercial television services is responsive to audience needs in regional and rural Australia; and

(c) the adequacy of the current regulatory framework to meet the objectives of the Act.

The investigation is being conducted by the ABA, in accordance with its functions and powers under the act. The objects of the act relevant to this investigation are:

(a) to promote the availability to audiences throughout Australia of a diverse range of radio and television services offering entertainment, education and information;

(b) to provide a regulatory environment that will facilitate the development of a broadcasting industry in Australia that is efficient, competitive and responsive to audience needs; and

(c) to encourage providers of commercial and community broadcasting services to be responsive to the need for a fair and accurate coverage of matters of public interest and for an appropriate coverage of matters of local significance.

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