The Government should dump media ownership restrictions in order to fix TV blackspots across the country, a Federal Liberal MP says.
Successive governments spent almost $1 billion switching televisions from analog to digital, but the Federal member for Hume, Angus Taylor, says many regional people have been left worse off.
“There are tens of thousands and perhaps more Australians across regional areas who are suffering from poor TV coverage, and I think it’s time for the Government to fix it,” he told ABC Rural.
He has managed to secure funding for a new tower in Crookwell in regional NSW, where locals say reception is hopeless.
“If you’re watching something like the Antique Roads Show and the fella’s explaining some technical thing about something, the sound goes and it’s very annoying,” local resident Bryan Kennedy explained.
Ron Cummins has lobbied for a new tower for the past three years. He said the offer of government subsidies during the digital switchover did not help.
“If you weren’t on a full-time pension, then you had to pay for the installation of the VAST system. And that could work up to $650 to $900 for the black box and satellite dish,” he said.
“And we didn’t think that was quite right given the Government had switched off the service and we had to pay to get free-to-air TV.”
Mr Kennedy said the satellite option was confusing for elderly people and that it did not provide local content.
“All the ads are now Alice Springs or somewhere like that,” he said.
Regional communities plagued by poor reception
Mr Taylor is concerned that other regional communities will continue to be plagued by poor reception.
He hopes the Turnbull Government will find his proposal attractive because it solves two problems: TV blackspots and the campaign by regional TV networks to lift 1980s media ownership restrictions.
Those laws prevent TV networks from owning newspapers and radio stations as well. They also permit metro stations and overseas companies such as Google and Netflix to stream into regional areas, while country networks cannot.
Mr Taylor said deregulation would allow the Government to hold regional networks to account.
“If they’re healthy and if they’re not being hurt by bad regulation, outdated regulation, then it’s very reasonable for them to make commitments,” he said.
Regional players like Prime, Southern Cross and WIN have lobbied hard for the laws to be scrapped. They argue the laws are forcing them to close local newsrooms.
“New entrants into our market are left to operate unlicensed, unrestricted and unregulated,” Prime chief executive Ian Audsley said.
“And what that does is that leaves us like the dog chained to the post. All we can do is sit back and watch our house be burgled.”
He said his company was “sympathetic” to Mr Taylor’s proposal.
“All things are possible if there’s regulatory reform,” Mr Audsley said.
But some media moguls like Kerry Stokes are sceptical and have argued against change.
In his former job, Malcolm Turnbull was sympathetic to media reform but it is still unclear whether he will implement change.
In Crookwell, Mr Cummins is tuned in and hoping the new Prime Minister will act.
“For a small community to go through four years of waiting in this day and age — I think that’s just too long,” he said.
“And if the PM took it on himself, surely other small towns could get a service a lot quicker than what we’ve gone through.”