Frequently Asked Questions

What is Save Our Voices?

Answer

Save Our Voices is a campaign launched by Australia’s four independent regional broadcast networks - Prime, WIN, Southern Cross Austereo and Imparja.

Through Save Our Voices we’re working together with the community to secure the long-term future of local media services, and the voices of regional Australia.

Over the past 15 years television newsrooms have been closed in Griffith, the Gold Coast, Newcastle, Wollongong, Canberra, Orange, Wagga Wagga, Mildura and Albury and news services and local coverage scaled back in Bendigo, Ballarat, Gippsland, Mt Gambier, Albany, Bunbury, Geraldton and Broome. 

Further closures are inevitable unless there is a change in Government policy. This campaign hopes to bring about change so that the voices of regional Australia are protected with a range of strong regional media services to ensure coverage of important news, current affairs and community information.   

What is happening to our local news services? Are they under threat?

Answer

Regional broadcasters are facing increasing cost pressures, and increasing competition. The problem is, we’re not competing on a level playing field; the capital city media companies and international internet services reach into our markets but don’t operate under any restrictions or a pay a license fee like regional broadcasters to do so.   

The Broadcasting Services Act restricts the number of types of media any one media company can own in a licence area (i.e. TV, radio, newspaper) and the number of Australians each television network is allowed to reach.

But it doesn’t account for the internet, or the fact that big city TV networks, internet news services, and Pay TV now reach 100% of the Australian population via smartphones, tablets, live streaming services and catch-up TV.

Faced with rising costs, restrictions on what economies of scale can be achieved and increased competition in regional licence areas, regional broadcasters have limited options to manage costs and remain viable. Cuts to local content on regional radio and television are inevitable unless this changes.

We want urgent changes to broadcasting rules so that we can compete on the same basis as everyone else that provides content into our markets.  

What are you doing about the issue?

Answer

We are running a campaign to raise public awareness about the problem and to encourage local MPs to take the message to Canberra that the rules need to change. It is vital we have a strong regional media so that regional and rural voices are heard, our biggest issues get the coverage they warrant and the concerns of the 9 million Australians that don’t live in the big cities are taken seriously.

The campaign includes TV and radio advertising, a website, Facebook and Twitter campaigns and community research in marginal seats where local MPs are very concerned about how this issue affects their constituents.  

What can I do to help?

Answer

On Tuesday 8th September, Save Our Voices is heading to Canberra to meet with key politicians to make the case for media reform.

The best way you can help support our meeting is to lend your voice to the campaign and pledge your support for media reform

You can also share our ads and this website with your friends and family, write or email your local MP, your local newspaper, and you can get your local community groups and sports clubs involved, because they too will be affected if regional media services are cut back.

The more people talking about this issue, the more likely it is that the Federal Government will take this threat to regional and rural voices seriously.

Aren't you just serving your own best interests?

Answer

This campaign is protecting the best interest of regional and rural Australia. We want a change to the Broadcasting Services Act because we want to continue to provide a voice for these communities, to share the stories that matter to you, to support community events, to help businesses get their message out, to promote local sporting teams and community groups, and to continue to provide skilled employment opportunities in regional areas right across the country.

What's in this for me?

Answer

Local news and current affairs keeps you informed of the important things happening in your community, their impact on you and what you can do to help change things you don’t like. Local media ensures local communities are fully informed about what’s going on as well as providing local communities with a voice. It allows the big issues to be scrutinised and the major concerns to get the attention they warrant.  

How much regional content do you actually broadcast?

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In total, Prime, WIN, Southern Cross and Imparja broadcast an average of about 350 hours per week of local regional news on television and radio, which is well above the legislated minimums. 

Why do we need to update the Broadcasting Services Act?

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The Broadcasting Services Act was passed in 1992 and was designed for a world that simply no longer exists. Back then we had only a few local TV and radio stations and small newspapers servicing each major region.

Today, every internet news service, the big city TV and radio networks, pay TV and countless other services stream their content into our markets. However, only the regional broadcasters are subjected to restrictions about what can be broadcast in regional areas. The rest do so unrestricted and without paying a licence fee. 

What changes do you want to make to the Broadcasting Services Act?

Answer

Specifically, we’re asking the Government to amend two sections of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992:

  • The ‘2 out of 3 rule’ that prevents mergers that involve more than two of three regulated media platforms (commercial television, commercial radio, and associated newspapers) in any commercial broadcast license area.
  • The ’75 percent reach’ rule that prevents individuals or companies from controlling a total license area that exceeds 75% of the Australian population – capital city networks already reach much more than 75% of the population

These rules were designed to ensure regional media markets were not monopolised by any one company, back in 1992, at a time when there were only a few TV stations, radio broadcasters and local newspapers servicing each major region. These days, regional media markets are full of competition, as regional Australians use online channels to access news, big city TV and radio, and Pay TV, which can be streamed across Australia unrestricted.

What will the changes mean?

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It means we will be able to compete on a level playing field with all other media that is available in regional broadcast areas. It will allow us to achieve economies of scale that will enable us to keep investing in local content to avoid an inevitable decline in local coverage. 

Would this change mean more local content?

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The changes would help prevent further cutbacks and closures of local news services and the economies of scale that could be achieved will help encourage investment in more local content.

Wouldn't these changes mean that the regional networks will merge with each other or get taken over by bigger competitors?

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Different regional broadcasters have expressed different ambitions for their future. Some see the potential to grow by expanding their services or buying other media operations, while some see opportunities to merge with others to achieve the economies of scale that would allow them to invest more in local content.

Takeovers would not be an issue because there are already minimum local content requirements attached to the licence, and we are not proposing this condition is removed. In fact, we think that if merges or takeovers happen, this condition to provide local news could be beefed up to benefit regional and rural Australians.

What will be the impact on job losses if we update the Broadcasting Services Act?

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The irony is that the job losses in regional broadcast media over the past 10 years are largely because the two rules we want changed have remained in place. We want to keep regional news operations running, and in turn, retain jobs in regional areas. If the changes we propose are introduced, the risk of further closures and cut backs will be significantly reduced. 

Won't changing the Act just mean that big multinational companies come in and buy our news outlets?

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That hasn’t happened to the big metropolitan media companies. All of the major networks are Australian owned.  Don't forget, the ACCC would play a role in considering all changes in media ownership, like they do with many other industries.  

Why would new owners improve regional services?

Wouldn't they just shut them down to benefit the bigger businesses they own in the city? 

Answer

In Queensland where the Seven Network operates Seven News outside of Brisbane, it has not shut down services; it has retained them because it has the scale of an entire national television network and big operations in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to help offset the costs of its regional operations. In northern NSW where Nine owns NBN it has also retained a strong regional news operation based in Newcastle, because it also has the scale to support such an operation. 

The fact is that if it is economically viable to sustain strong regional news services that is what will happen.

What will happen if the current laws stay the same?

Answer

Over the past 15 years television newsrooms have been closed in Griffith, the Gold Coast, Newcastle, Wollongong, Canberra, Orange, Wagga Wagga, Mildura and Albury and news services and local coverage scaled back in Bendigo, Ballarat and Gippsland, Mt Gambier, Albany, Bunbury, Geraldton and Broome. 

If we don't update the Broadcasting Services Act to reflect the changed media landscape, the trend of reduced local content, newsroom scale-downs and closures will continue.

Are you saying that news services aren't profitable?

Answer

The cost of programming content is rising fast and competition for our audiences is growing at a rapid rate which is putting our revenue under pressure as advertisers look at other alternatives. The cost of operating hundreds of transmission towers across vast areas of Australia is also significant. Therefore, there are very few options to reduce costs to offset the challenges we are facing.

Regrettably, local news services are a major cost that can be reduced if there are no other options and that is why these closures and cutbacks occur. 

Don't regional broadcasters receive financial assistance to aid the transition to digital?

Over recent years, regional broadcasters have received $260m in taxpayer money to fund the digital transition and a 50 percent reduction in license fees. Hasn't that been enough to help? 

Answer

This is far less than the major networks have received or the tax breaks that companies like Google and Netflix enjoy which simply aren’t available to regional broadcasters. If anything, despite Government support we are worse off than we were and certainly worse off relative to the capital city networks compared to a few years ago. 

International regulators have actually tightened rules to preserve local content. Why can't you do that here?

Answer

On their own, new rules about local content won’t improve the economics for regional broadcasters, in fact they could make the economics worse. 

Your critics say you are threatening to axe regional jobs unless the Government gives in to your bullying. How do you respond to that?

Answer

That criticism comes from the Seven Network, which has a strong vested commercial interest in the rules staying the same.

The current rules prevent any broadcaster from reaching more than 75% of the population. But the rules didn’t contemplate modern media technology when they were introduced in 1992.

There is a loophole in the current rules that means that Seven can stream its content to 100% of the population via the 7PLUS app on mobiles and tablets. Other capital city networks are able to do the same.

In doing this, Seven is live streaming content to regional areas for which it does not have a broadcasting licence, and you're paying for it via your data usage! And not only that, Seven's live stream into regional areas is the same content that Prime, WIN and Southern Cross have already paid Seven to broadcast exclusively in these markets. Prime, WIN and Southern Cross also pay a licence fee to the Government to access these markets.

We are not threatening to axe jobs; we are campaigning for reforms to achieve a fair and level playing field. 

APN's regional media has also been critical of our campaign, saying we are selfish. You may not be aware that they are 14.99% owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and they plan to put a paywall on your local newspaper (and bundle it up with other News Corp owned products like the Courier Mail, Fox Sports and Presto, which is owned by Seven and News Corp). Free TV is free - and unlike News Corp, we can't and don't want to make you pay for what you should get for free. 

Why can't you invest in increasing your online presence?

You say that you are under threat from competitors utilising digital media. Why can't you invest in increasing your online presence and use similar digital channels to provide local content to regional audiences? 

Answer

Because regional broadcasters do not own the digital rights to the content they buy from the major networks. Those rights remain with the capital city networks.

Can you guarantee that updating legislation will really save regional voices?

Can you guarantee that should Save Our Voices succeed in changing the legislation, you will really 'save our voices'? What are the specifics of this guarantee? Can you quantify the level of minimum local content that will be produced? 

Answer

Regional broadcasters already significantly exceed the minimum content requirements on a voluntary basis, despite the cost pressures. Local audiences want local content and if the rules are changed it will become easier and cheaper for regional news services to be maintained, and hopefully be increased.

Should minimum local content requirements also be included in any changes to current legislation?

If the changes you are advocating will really ensure increased local content, should minimum local content requirements also be included in any changes to the current legislation?  

Answer

Yes, we have proposed and support the idea that there should be a strong minimum local content requirement built into the conditions of owning a regional broadcasting licence, regardless of who owns it.