PPCA and Politics. A real ‘Yes Minister’ fiasco

There is a growing feeling amongst some commercial radio owners that the country may have backed the wrong horse at the last election.

Many of them are starting to say, at least in private, that it may have been far better for them, and their listeners, if the Labor Party had won government, given the ‘unfriendly’ responses they’ve been receiving from current Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, especially over the dispute between the radio industry and the music licensor, PPCA.

The Minister has persistently refused to step up and issue a simple, single-paragraph Ministerial Determination, which would declare that the simultaneous internet streaming of a commercial radio program is ‘a broadcast’, and thereby, would exempt the industry from having to pay twice for the same music.

Before PPCA mounted and won a recent legal challenge, on-air and simultaneous on-line streaming had been accepted industry practice for years and considered a single program when it came to rights payments.

The Labor Party has indicated it would happily support a legislative move to confirm this position.

In fact, the previous Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, gave an assurance prior to the last election that he would put a Determination to parliament without delay, if Labor was re-elected, of course.

Some stations are now concerned that choosing to stream their programs on the internet could ultimately cost them up to ten times the fees their stations are currently paying for music rights, and, that could well jeopardise jobs in the industry.

Malcolm Turnbull says he wants the industry and PPCA to work the dispute out commercially, and, in saying so, appears to want to wash his hands of the matter.

There’s something very Pontius Pilate about it all and both the music and radio industries are getting financially crucified through his inaction.

It appears Minister Turnbull is more than happy to sit on the sidelines and allow millions and millions of dollars to be wasted on legal fees on both sides of the dispute, rather than sorting out something he could fix with the stroke of a pen.

I guess, when it comes down to it, like most things in government – it’s not his money!

To rub salt into the wound, Minister Turnbull’s Senate counterpart, Mitch Fifield, was sent to the commercial radio convention in Melbourne last week to ‘poke the bear’ a little.

The end result of this extraordinary and amateurish presentation was that Senator Fifield put the industry in its place as though they were a bunch of errant schoolkids.

Not really a smart move in a room of people who, between them, own a big megaphone!

Senator Fifield told the stunned industry audience that both he and the Minister believed not taking any action was the appropriate course of action, and basically, implied the industry should just suck it up.

Needless to say, Senator Fifield got the lukewarm response he deserved, given his endorsement of a ‘head in the sand’ approach to a situation that the vast majority of his coalition colleagues have indicated should be resolved in favour of the radio industry and their audiences.

Minister Turnbull is the Minister for Communications and has responsibility for the radio industry.

He does not have responsibility for the record or music industry; that belongs to the Arts Minister.

So, it’s not surprising that the radio industry is more than miffed that their own Minister isn’t addressing what’s become a commercial radio dilemma, so stations can get their programs back on-line quickly and fully serve their listeners, many of whom rely on internet coverage.

This is especially so, when not a peep has ever been heard from the Arts Minister on the issue.

Nobody in the commercial radio industry, that I know, believes that recording artists should not be compensated reasonably for their talents, but that’s already happening under current commercial arrangements.

Expert industry assessments are believed to show that the present push for big internet streaming fees by PPCA, an association of major international record companies, would heavily impact Australian radio stations, if they chose to stream under the music licensor’s proposed scheme.

In fact, without radio, and, all its forms of modern day delivery, including the internet, smartphones and tablets, most people wouldn’t even get to hear or know of the majority of artists or their music.

There are some radio owners, but not the majority at this point, who believe that the music industry should actually be paying radio stations for the exposure their artists and music receive.

Radio is, after all, an advertising medium and music exposure is nothing short of unpaid promotion or advertising; but that’s an argument for another day.

It just doesn’t seem a smart political move for the Minister not to support the radio industry, whose owners are, in large part, members of his own party’s support base.

So, to actually go out and try to publicly humiliate those owners at their own industry conference was just plain dumb politics – a case of an elected official trying to put business people in their place and show who’s boss!

Surprisingly, CRA Chief Executive, Joan Warner, appears to be one person who didn’t take complete offense at Senator Fifield’s comments.

Ms Warner says she is still hopeful a resolution can be found at a political level and that common sense will ultimately prevail on the issue.

Let’s hope she’s right.

It is now well past time for the Minister to stop hoping the issue will simply go away.

He needs to start listening to the views of his coalition colleagues, who are actually in touch with the grassroots needs of the Australian community, and get the problem sorted in the best interests of the industry he’s responsible for.

As far as Senator Fifield’s presentation is concerned; he’d do well to take note of a saying, often attributed to Mark Twain, that has been universally respected by smart politicians around the World for the past half century – ‘Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel’.

That’s actually a newspaper saying, but, I’m sure, by now, there must be a similar quote for the electronic media.

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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