Commercial Radio sector takes aim at regulator ACMA and Media Watch

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 4.32.19 PMThe commercial radio industry has called for a review of regulation of the sector, taking aim at both official and unofficial forms of oversight.

The newly re-elected board of Commercial Radio Australia, this afternoon, took aim at the current co-regulatory regime facing the industry and called on the government to look at whether it should reduce the current levels oversight.

Commercial Radio Australia CEO, Joan Warner said in a statement: “The CRA Board is united in its view that regulation on commercial radio in this country must be reviewed and reduced in an increasingly competitive media and communications environment”

“Traditional media, and in particular commercial radio, is operating in an increasingly complex and convergent media and communications environment, often with one hand tied behind its back in a regulatory sense.”

“We compete for advertising dollars on a daily basis with newer platforms that are largely unregulated in relation to either content or advertising. It is time we had a level playing field.”

The comments come after the media watchdog the Australian Communications and Media Authority issued a number of findings against prominent radio broadcasters such as Bob Francis, Alan Jones and Ray Hadley.

The comments by the board of Commercial Radio Australia also came after a fiery session at the Commercial Radio Australia conference, today in Brisbane, in which industry executives took aim at former ABC Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes, in a session, after he criticised them for sometimes “talking crap”.

Stuart Thomas, former chief legal officer for Macquarie Radio which owns Radio 2GB, said in opinion-based programs such as Alan Jones’ Breakfast program facts are secondary to the narrative.

Holmes asked: “One of the reasons radio gets itself onto media watch is that its presenters talk crap. Essentially they get the facts wrong. Is it so hard and how do you manage to get it right?”

Thomas, who is now general counsel for Network Ten, replied: “In the news environment obviously the facts are the most important, but when you have an opinion or comment based program what people want to hear is what is Alan Jones’ view? What is his take?”

“Quite often those facts are not pivotal to the piece and often the fact could be taken out and the opinion remains the same,” said Thomas.

Michelle Davies, corporate counsel for the Fairfax Radio Network, agreed.

“For our news programs we have high standards of factual accuracy but the practical reality is you’re doing a three hour program thats live with callers calling in,” she said.

“Unless you have teams and teams of people working to do all that fact-checking – which you don’t… we have to rely on what’s in the papers so we will make our own inquiries and if it appears to us to be a reliable source, we will treat that as reliable and thats acceptable under the code.”

Davies said radio stations will be accountable but often the “snippets” highlighted on the ABC’s Media Watch program are taken out of context and presented by a skewed opinion. However she said stations always work to set the facts straight.

When Holmes asked how to control presenters, Stuart said they have to accept that in presenting a live program the scope for inaccuracy is inevitable, as it comes down to resources and the context of the show.

“In a live commercial context there’s not the access to those resources or the time,” Stuart said. “Not to say factual accuracy is not an important objective.”

Thomas played Holmes a clip from 2GB’s new Media Watch program, hosted by controversial columnist Andrew Bolt, broadcast each week shortly before the ABC1 show.

After playing a clip of the show that criticised the ABC, Holmes said it would be good if they monitored 2GB’s own programs.

He also said when Radio 2GB features on Media Watch it actually is positive for the station.

“When our audience hears one of our presenters talking about Media Watch they are on our side and there is this funny dynamic where the more Media Watch focuses on 2GB the more listeners will tune in and it becomes a contest of views, said Thomas.

“Both audiences are strong in their viewpoint and it can have a positive effect from a business perspective.”

Megan Reynolds 


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