An open letter to Senator the Hon David Johnston

Watching the Senate Estimates today, I’ve been amused by the antics. Lining up all the Senators, the Minister, public servants and parliamentary staff must cost a bomb per hour, so you’d hope the time was spent wisely. Sadly, no.

My observations — in between other work, so this isn’t representative:

  • Senator Stephen Conroy’s little joke of re-reading the PM’s statement about pay restraint whenever anyone asked about executive salaries wore thin. Please, just have the spine to say, “No, I won’t be making a separate statement.”
  • Senator Simon Birmingham wasted time asking the head of SBS questions whose answers could have easily been found on their website or in their annual report. Maybe you should organise a coffee with him or a staff member to catch up on these basics.
  • Senator Eric Abetz had a detailed list of quite specific questions for Australia Post. It’s precisely this kind of forensic examination which gives Senate Estimates such importance to our democracy.
  • Senator David Johnstone was… no, he gets more than a bullet point!

Senator Johnstone was angry that when the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) awarded two new community radio licenses in Perth last month, one long-running “aspirant” (license applicant) called Western Sports Media wasn’t a winner.

Apparently some cricket fans were upset. However Senator Johnstone tackled the ACMA representatives with what I thought was inappropriate aggression — particularly as he obviously wasn’t across the details. I therefore fired off an email…

Dear Senator Johnston,

I understand that it’s important for Senate committees to rigorously investigate how taxpayers’ money is spent. However I thought your tone and attitude this afternoon in questioning the ACMA representatives regarding the awarding of certain community radio licenses in WA was unnecessarily hostile — particularly as you seemed to be arguing from a position of ignorance regarding the laws and procedures for community radio licensing.

I’ve previously been Station Manager of a community radio station, and a board member of the Community Broadcasting Association of SA. I can therefore say with some confidence that this isn’t the first time that ACMA and its predecessors have faced the difficult task of choosing between a number of worthy aspirants when there’s only one permanent license to be had.

Nor is it the first time that one of the “losers” has been running test broadcasts for some time. In the early days of what was then the Australian Broadcasting Authority, some aspirants had been broadcasting on temporary licenses for years — but temporary they were.

I can also say that since I haven’t read the details of this decision, I have no idea what the strengths and weaknesses of the various applicants were. And neither do you.

The two “winners”, an indigenous broadcaster and one targeting the ageing population, seem valid enough in terms of the communities served. But, as I say, neither you nor I have actually read the decision.

I am appalled that you waved the word “cricket” as if such self-indulgent activities as sport are automatically deserving of the limited broadcast spectrum.

If, as you claim, there were 16 thousand letters of complaint from the cricket fans, then this would surely represent a commercially viable radio audience. Perhaps your noisy cricket fans who formerly listened to Western Sports Media’s temporary broadcasts could put their case to a commercial broadcaster, or one of the licensed community broadcasters — or even use the Internet to stream sound and vision of their favourite game, just as I’ve been watching your performance this afternoon.

If there was a fault in ACMA’s decision as a matter of law or procedure, then by all means go your hardest. I’d then congratulate you for doing what the Senate does best. But until you’ve established the facts of the case, I’d have thought that common decency and good manners would require you to treat ACMA’s representatives politely and with respect.



Naturally I will publish any response I receive.

[Update: Here’s a great example of how numbers get twisted. According to Western Sports Media’s website, they received a total of 16,000 “emails and letters of support” across 6 weeks as part of their license application. While that certainly shows a significant level of community support, it’s certainly not the same thing as “16 thousand complaints” at not winning.]

One Reply to “An open letter to Senator the Hon David Johnston”

  1. Well, like Senator Johnston, I am also outraged. It’s about time sport was adequately represented in the Australian media. For too long has it languished on the sidelines. When, oh when, are the sportsmen and women of this nation going to get the exposure they richly deserve?


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