Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 2 Hansard (20 February) . . Page.. 387 ..
MS GALLAGHER (continuing):
Any company that has the privilege of holding a licence, and receiving the community support in dollar terms, also should be obliged to provide good coverage of local events through local news or its equivalent, and adequate coverage of other significant events. I believe there is a strong need for some mutual obligation in these business handouts.
I will conclude by noting the Canberra survey commissioned by Grey Worldwide and reported in the Canberra Times on 8 January this year. While a relatively small sample was surveyed, 68 per cent of the respondents believed that a local news service should be part of a television station's licensing agreement. It is probably also worthy of note that the ABA investigation will be holding a public hearing in Canberra on 25 February, at Olims Hotel from 4.00 to 7.00 pm.
The loss of our diversity in local news and local content has been felt widely across the Canberra community, not only by those workers who lost their jobs and their families, but also by the average punter who sat down each night faithfully to watch our local news. Mr Speaker, I commend the motion to the Assembly.
MR PRATT (12.34): I support the thrust of Ms Gallagher's motion, but I will go on to support an amendment that may be put forward shortly. I would like to add my voice to that of Ms Gallagher's with respect to the closure of local TV programs.
We must, I think, be grateful that ABC TV news now has local content, allowing at least some diversity for Canberra viewers. However, taking this one step further, I also seek to raise a media issue closely linked to the one referred to by Ms Gallagher, which is the closure of an independent newspaper, the Valley View, in my electorate of Brindabella.
The Valley View was a good little professional community paper, which reported a diverse range of public and political opinion. We can now be grateful that the Tuggeranong valley rugby club decided to launch the Valley Voice which, as I understand, has now been taken over and re-launched, still as the Valley Voice, but by Heartland Publications. I think it is, in fact, a lone voice against what appears to be becoming a concentrated print media empire.
It is sobering to reflect that in Canberra, the national capital, we are in effect a one-newspaper town. Here lies a very serious concern-the great bulk of print media in the ACT is now concentrated in the hands of one publisher. Diversity goes to the heart of democracy and balanced reporting. While we in the Assembly perhaps do not have the power to influence diversity in our print and electronic media, we must strive to achieve diversity here, for the sake of democracy, by applying pressure to federal authorities. I think there will be more said about that by my colleagues later.
MS DUNDAS (12.36): The ACT Democrats rise to support this motion. Not only have the closures of the local newsrooms cost jobs, but they have also limited the amount of news and points of view freely available in the ACT community. The ability to access information, and these different ways of accessing information, are an important part of our democracy. The cost of information and the price of democracy should be something that we, as a community, are not only willing to pay for, but demand.