blog With Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and Fairfax largely on the Coalition’s side when it comes to its radical overhaul of Labor’s popular National Broadband Network project, and even the ABC actively censoring discussion of the topic, it has largely fallen to the minority technology media and even individual IT professionals to cover the issue over the past several years. However, a new voice has recently emerged at UK independent outlet The Guardian. Controversial commentator Van Badham has not been dismayed by having her NBN questions shut down live on Q&A last week by host Tony Jones and has penned a fiery piece slamming Turnbull’s ‘Multi-Technology Mix’ vision and the general lack of attention being paid to it. Badham writes (we recommend you click here for the full article):
“Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull may not want to answer many questions about the National Broadband Network, but it shouldn’t stop Australians from asking them. After all, since last September, Turnbull has reneged on pre-election NBN commitments, admitted to giving misleading statements about Labor’s costings, made chummy appointments, ignored expert economic consideration, and infuriated the near-entirety of the professional tech community. And yet, the minister has been able to dodge much deserved public excoriation.”
You may think I or Badham are exaggerating about the lack of attention being paid to the NBN project and Turnbull’s escape act. If so, you may want to take a look at the evidence. Much of the problem revolves around the mainstream media’s approach to the issue.
A University of Canberra study of the Financial Review newspaper’s coverage of the topic was published in August 2012. The findings: “Our analysis of 51 published articles mentioning [Then Communications Minister Stephen Conroy] over approximately the past six weeks indicates the AFR is certainly not a fan of the high-speed internet infrastructure project, nor of the Senator. In all stories on Conroy, there were only four positive headlines and 18 neutral ones – 29 (more than 53%) – were negative.”
And there was a similar study published by the University of Melbourne in February this year. It examined The Australian and The Age newspapers, finding: “… across both newspapers, there were “comparatively few articles focusing on the positive aspects and possible larger societal benefits of the network, or on the applications that may be supported by the NBN (including health, arts, education) … whilst the research findings do not reveal any particular agenda being pursued, they do show that the sentiment in the print media representations of the NBN was overwhelmingly negative.”
In the seven months since the Federal Election, and despite the questionable and now hypocritical approach Turnbull is often taking to the project, the tone and angle of the mainstream media has not changed; the new Minister is not facing the same degree of scrutiny as the old. A good example of this is The Australian’s editorial on the subject this morning, which barely mentions Turnbull but lands all NBN issues at Labor’s door.
There is significant evidence that the Australian public is indeed interested in the issue and even that the NBN plays into election voting patterns — but that the media is not representing the public’s views well.
I’m planning to examine the ABC’s coverage of the NBN issue in more detail shortly. I’d prefer not to have to — but the evidence continues to show, as Badham writes, that this important topic is not being given the level of importance it deserves. Given that the NBN is Australia’s largest ever infrastructure project and will function as a critical enabler of economic growth and productivity over the next century, this situation cannot be allowed to continue.
Image credit: Screenshot of last week’s Q&A program on the ABC, believed to be OK to use under Australian fair dealing provisions