A major new research study has found overwhelming support among Australians in regional and rural areas for the Federal Government to update outdated media laws so that local news services remain viable.
The survey spanning regional NSW, Victoria and Queensland was conducted by JWS Research in September for Australia’s four main independent regional broadcasters and found:
- 86% regard access to local TV news bulletins as important or very important and 85% of people are concerned about losing their local news bulletin;
- 81% believe regional broadcasters play an important role in covering local events and issues and keeping local communities informed and 88% are worried about losing touch with their local community if local news is cut back;
- 82% supported changes to media rules that would help regional broadcasters continue to provide local news services.
In August, regional broadcasters PRIME, WIN, Southern Cross Austereo and Imparja launched the “Save Our Voices” campaign to highlight the risks of further cutbacks and closures of local news services unless media laws were updated and reformed.
Former Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader Tim Fischer who has lent this support to the campaign says: “These survey results show overwhelmingly and unambiguously that the old media laws are out of date and must change if local voices, local stories and local issues are to get the attention they deserve”.
“The current rules are 23 years old, from a time before the internet, smartphones and tablets. Not only that, while regional broadcasters remain shackled by regulations that restrict how many people can access their services, the ABC, SBS, all metropolitan commercial TV networks, internet news and entertainment providers and pay TV can reach 100% of the Australian population with no restrictions.
“The survey reveals strong, broad-based community support for updating the rules to create a level playing field that will give regional broadcasters a fair go."
Mr Fischer said people in regional and rural Australia were very concerned about obstacles facing regional broadcasting because of the wider economic and social value it provides to the communities it serves across Australia.
“The vast majority of people in regional and rural areas understand that local broadcasting does much more than just provide local news. It provides low cost advertising platforms for local businesses, it employs thousands of people, it provides local sport and weather and donates tens of millions of dollars in free air-time for community service information and local business, sports and community groups.
“We must do everything we can to ensure regional broadcasting can continue serving rural and regional communities,” Mr. Fischer said.
“Almost three-quarters of people surveyed believe coverage of local issues will decline further if the rules don’t change while two thirds believe that without reform further cutbacks and closures to local news services are inevitable.
“It is clear that regional and rural Australians understand that the current rules favour the major media outlets at the expense of regional media,” said Mr Fischer.
“Regional broadcasters need to achieve economies of scale to survive. It is no coincidence that the two regional networks that provide the highest level of local content, Seven Queensland and NBN are both wholly owned by the major networks Seven West Media and Nine Entertainment Co.
“In this survey 86% of people supported the idea that regional networks should be allowed to expand and 78% supported new rules that would allow regional broadcasters to merge so that they can achieve the scale they need to provide strong local coverage,” said Mr Fischer.
The Save Our Voices campaign is asking for the ‘reach’ rule, and the ‘two out of three’ rule in the Broadcasting Services Act to be repealed.
The ‘reach’ rule that prevents broadcasters from reaching more than 75% of the population is now redundant given that the major commercial broadcasters, internet services and pay TV can already reach 100% of the country.
The ‘two out of three’ rule prevents any one company or individual from owning newspapers, television and radio outlets in a licence area but ignores all other media platforms that have emerged since 1992 when the rule was introduced.
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Research was conducted by telephone polling by JWS Research between 9 and 13 September. The research covered a sample size of 1200 residents in regional Australia, aged 18 + years, across NSW, Victoria and Queensland.