Cry ‘Radio’ and let slip the Dogs of Politics!

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s two years of procrastination on defining radio’s streaming access to the Internet should see him forfeit any right to control this issue in the future.

It’s time now for ‘The Captain’ to step up.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s near-death political experience last week should have been a real ‘Come to Jesus’ moment for him, and, rightly so.

Narrowly surviving the spill motion, the Prime Minister promised he would genuinely consult his back-benchers from now on when it comes to policy-making.

But, did he really mean what he said or was it just another cynical political ploy to buy some extra time?

I’m prepared to give Tony Abbott the benefit of the doubt in this instance, at least in the short term.

If the PM really intends to change his ‘shoot from the lip’ on-the-run policy making, and, his irritating and juvenilely-termed ‘Captain’s Picks’, then the issue of internet streaming for radio stations would be an ideal place for him to start, given the current level of back-bench sentiment.

On Wednesday last week, about 100 MPs and Senators gathered in Parliament House to meet informally with the board of Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) and the heads of many metropolitan and regional radio networks.

The purpose of this get-together for CRA was to take the temperature of the assembled politicians as to where they stood on the issue of whether radio programs broadcast on technology other than a station’s radio transmitters is still a ‘radio broadcast’.

It may seem a ’no-brainer’ on the surface, but it is an extremely important definition for the radio industry because it is the basis of a multi-million dollar argument that is about to be played out in the Copyright Tribunal between broadcasters, and, the foreign-owned record companies, operating under the banner of PPCA.

Radio broadcasters say delivering programs via new technology, such as simultaneously streaming their programs on the internet, is just another way of delivering their radio broadcasts in this modern age.

They say embracing and adapting to new technology is an evolutionary process for broadcasting.

PPCA says it’s not and wants broadcasters to pay a substantial additional fee for every song multiplied by every person who listens via streaming; this, despite the fact, that few, if any, broadcasters are generating any revenues whatsoever from their presence on the web.

On top of this, PPCA is demanding onerous record-keeping that will be well beyond the capabilities of all but the biggest radio conglomerates.

Back-benchers, who attended the Parliament House function last week, have been reading the pulse of their own constituents on streaming, and, they’re rightly concerned.

They know, that out there in ‘Voter-land’, it’s politically unpopular for their local radio stations’ programs not to be available on the net, and, the local pollies are also well aware that the political threat to them is being exacerbated by listeners (voters) blaming the coalition government for this, and, in particular, the intransigence of the Communications Minister.

Sure, in the big scheme of things, this is really a very minor issue for the government, given its current multitude of problems, but as we all know, minor issues, like inappropriate knighthoods, tend to fester and have political ramifications well beyond their real importance.

Around 80-85 percent of coalition members and senators have already indicated that they favour the Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, issuing what’s known as a Ministerial Determination or taking other decisive action.

A Determination is a simple legislative instrument that would clarify that ‘radio broadcasts’ carried simultaneously on the Internet, or, any other form of technology that may emerge at some time in the future, are legislatively defined as ‘radio broadcasts’.

Under this definition, radio broadcasters would only have to pay one set of music performance fees; those on the original program.

They would not be faced with having to pay a second time to stream the same program live on the internet, and potentially, multiple times for different technologies as they evolve in the future.

Until PPCA went to court to challenge it, the streaming of radio programs had been an accepted industry practice for nearly 15 years.

Many of the regional MPs and senators are more than aware of the importance of radio stations having access to any available technology to get their service through to their listeners, particularly in times of emergencies.

This is a nation that is hampered by the tyranny of distance and prone to frequent natural disasters and other emergencies.

Common sense tells you that streaming on the net can’t be turned on and off just to cater for emergencies because people have to know, with certainty, how to access vital information when they are under pressure.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t appear to recognise the importance of this and certainly wasn’t even prepared to touch on the subject when he spoke to the gathered media executives and politicians.

To date, he’s doggedly refusing to issue a Determination.

To many of the back-benchers, this is completely unacceptable.

So, they now see no alternative.

Many of them believe that with the Communications Minister sitting on the fence, it is time for the Prime Minister to finally step up and stand by the promise he made just a week ago to listen to the very real concerns of his back-benchers on this issue.

It appears a rising groundswell of coalition back-benchers believe the Internet streaming issue must be raised in the Party Room without delay.

Tony Abbott has said he will listen, and, he must.

Otherwise, he risks losing even greater credibility within the Australian electorate should the radio industry decide to go public.

Of course, the broadcast industry has always had that ability at its fingertips, but to date, it has shown great restraint.

Given the overwhelming weight of support amongst his back-bench to get radio stations back streaming, the Prime Minister needs to direct his Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to get off the fence and issue a Determination to sort out the current mess immediately.

This should be done, if for no other reason, than to give the government a small amount of positive traction from what would be received as a sensible and very popular measure within the Australian electorate.

Right now, people are angry at the federal government because they can’t hear their local radio stations on the net, and, coalition back-benchers are well aware of the backlash within the Australian community.

Quick government action would give certainty to all parties involved in this issue, cut the further outflow of millions in legal fees from all sides, and, give voters what they want – a guarantee that their local radio station will be available to them on any form of appropriate technology in the future.

Yes, Prime Minister … this is one issue that is so easily solved.

About The Author:

Brad SMART has been a journalist, consultant, author, broadcaster, film director and was the former owner of the Smart Radio Network throughout Queensland. Brad can be contacted on email here.  


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