I don’t normally like blogs so opinionated that you don’t know where the opinion ends and the facts begin. So I will apologise at the beginning for writing a blog about things about which I am opinionated and passionate. The facts will speak for themselves.
First, the not-so-tender process of the Australia Network where the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade handed over the decision to the Department of Communications, then the Cabinet decided to terminate the whole process, awarding the contract to the ABC over Sky News Australia. Cabinet said the process had been nobbled by leaks of secret rankings, in both cases giving the nod to Sky News, and the Government has even called in the AFP to investigate the leaks.
In cancelling the tender, the Prime Minister said it had been “profoundly compromised as a result of these leaks.” Balderdash. The contract was awarded to the ABC because Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and others in the government did not want Sky to get it. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has a small interest in Sky via the British broadcaster BSkyB, and there’s obviously some concern about News Limited’s limited involvement in Sky News. Overblown concern, I believe.
I will boil it down to this: the ABC should have been awarded the contract in the first place on the basis of the government’s “soft diplomacy” policy for the Asia-Pacific region. The tender process was unnecessary; the fact that it was bungled is the fault of the Government. The ABC has been running the Australia Network since it began, with a short interlude by the Seven Network which ran it at a loss. It is the national broadcaster, it has correspondents overseas, and it has run Radio Australia, a natural companion for the Australia Network, for 70 years.
But the government decided to hold the tender process, and when it didn’t get the result it wanted, it picked up its ball and went home. That’s not a fair go. I used to work at Sky News, and I know how hard CEO Angelos Frangopoulos worked on the tender. In fact, some of the staff told me it was difficult getting to see him for a while as “he was always working on that bloody Australia Network tender.” So I can see why he said Sky deserves some compensation for the loss of the contract, and why Stephen Conroy and the Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull believe the subscription channel has a fair case.
I only hope the Sky News CEO spends any compensation he’s awarded to build up foreign bureaus so he can take on the ABC and their 24-hour channel in an area where they are satellites ahead. (I wrote about this in a previous blog about the Australia Network row http://bit.ly/s9cKzT) And if there is ever another tender process, I hope the government of the day appoints people who have worked in and know about television to the judging panel to avoid the shambles this one created.
And the other issue which has tempted me to throw my remote at the television is the so-called Bali Boy story.
The Australian Government and the media (of which I am part) are in danger of winning the World Hypocrisy Cup by the way they have treated the case of the 14-year-old boy who was arrested for possession of drugs in Bali, and sentenced to two months in jail — which turned out to be a detention centre — for his crime.
It is a good story, as we say in the media, but it ranks as one of the great beat-ups of our time. One 14-year-old boy, guilty of being stupid enough to buy drugs in the tourist mecca of Kuta, has been photographed wearing a balaclava to avoid being identified; his parents accused of selling his story for up to $300,000 to Sixty Minutes, an accusation vehemently denied by the parents and Channel 9 (a disclosure: I wrote a headline for Channel Ten’s Meet the Press in which I quoted the Sunday Telegraph on the claim. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!); and the boy’s father pleading yesterday for the media to leave the family alone.
All this while dozens of Indonesian children are in custody in Australian prisons, many of them boys dragooned by people smugglers to work on boats carrying asylum seekers. This was a story reported in the Sun Herald on the same day the rumours about the boy’s family selling his story appeared.
I’m glad he got home for Christmas; it would also be nice if some of those innocent Indonesian boys were sent home as well.
And to the government and my media colleagues, a plea: Please leave the Bali Boy and his family alone so he can take off that bloody balaclava!