Sky News kills NBN topic with Shadow Minister



news A host on pay TV channel Sky News last week defended the new Coalition Government’s unpopular radical overhaul of Labor’s NBN project and subsequently shut down discussion of it during a live interview with Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare, as controversy continues to swirl about the extent to which mainstream media is censoring coverage of the project.

Last Thursday, veteran political reporter Kieran Gilbert (pictured) hosted a segment on the Sky News AM Agenda show where he interviewed Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare. Gilbert is Sky News’ chief political correspondent and has been a member of the Canberra press gallery since 2003.

The interview — which Clare has posted on his YouTube channel in full — largely focused on the budget, with Gilbert asking Clare questions regarding taxation and infrastructure spending. However, towards the middle of the interview, in response to a question about infrastructure, Clare raised the issue of the National Broadband Network, which is his key portfolio responsibility.

“… my main concern is the biggest and most important infrastructure project in Australia — the National Broadband Network — and Tony Abbott thinks it’s just a big video game machine,” the Labor MP said. “He doesn’t understand how important it is and if Tony Abbott thinks he is going to be the infrastructure Prime Minister of Australia then he needs to build the NBN, not wreck it.”

Gilbert responded that the Coalition was “obviously still committed to a broadband network”, and claimed that as Clare knew, “it’s just they hope to have a less expensive version of it”.

Clare responded that the Coalition’s version of the NBN would be “a second rate version”, relying partially on Telstra’s existing copper network. “If you want to look at what’s more important, the NBN will be cheaper to build over the next ten years than the Paid Parental Leave Scheme,” the Shadow Minister said.

Upon this statement, Gilbert further defended the Coalition’s new approach to the NBN project, stating that “it’s not just copper, it’s a combination of all sorts of technologies, including fibre to the node”. When Clare objected, Gilbert said he didn’t “want to get caught up on the NBN,” and shifted the topic of the interview to family welfare payments.

Gilbert’s approach netted him a clutch of negative comments on YouTube. “It’s like the host doesn’t even pretend not to be partisan re: NBN,” wrote one commenter. “Did Murdoch supply the questions on the NBN?” added another. “Watching this reminds me why I never would consider pay TV in this country.”

The situation mirrored a similar situation several weeks ago when news the ABC’s flagship panel discussion program Q&A appeared to actively censor the National Broadband Network issue from being discussed on an episode featuring Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull; ignoring a flood of questions from viewers prior to its filming, leaving the issue out of pre-show briefing documents and shutting down discussion on air.

Q&A’s approach to the NBN issue generated a degree of controversy on social media. “Almost like they went out of their way to change topic. Van tried, but got shot down,” wrote one commenter on Twitter. “Host appeared to be acting on instructions to shut any NBN discussion down,” wrote another.

The ABC subsequently denied it censored the National Broadband Network issue from being discussed on Q&A due to any arrangement with Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, stating that it merely ran out of time to air a question on the topic.

In Opposition, Turnbull regularly criticised the ABC for what he believed was a stance the organisation had taken in favour of the flagship Labor project. The news also comes as the Coalition Federal Government has also been reported to be considering cuts to the ABC’s budget.

Turnbull has no authority directly over Sky News, with the organisation being a joint venture between UK operator BSkyB and channels Seven and Nine in Australia. It is not clear how the rollout of either versions of the NBN would affect Sky’s success in Australia.

The news also comes several months after a new comprehensive study of public attitudes towards Labor’s National Broadband Network project published by the University of Melbourne found the initiative still enjoys very high levels of widespread public support from ordinary Australians, despite what the study described as an “overwhelmingly negative” approach to the project by print media such as newspapers.

I have been very hesitant in the past to believe the conspiracy theories floating around about various publishers and media organisations wanting to shut down Labor’s National Broadband Network project to prop up their own commercial interests. There is not a great deal of evidence to support the claim that journalists and executives at companies such as News Corporation, Fairfax, Foxtel and so on have been ordered from the top to take an antagonistic approach to Labor’s NBN project.

And I also must note here that there is no suggestion that veteran political reporter Kieran Gilbert has acted unethically. It appears that Gilbert did not invite Clare on specifically to talk about the NBN, and that he wanted to concentrate on other, topical subjects on hand. In this vein, his move to shut down Clare’s segue into NBN issues is understandable. Gilbert is a well-respected and professional reporter and host and I certainly don’t think he did anything wrong here.

However, it’s also becoming impossible to ignore the fact that, regardless of the reasons why, we are certainly seeing discussion of the NBN issue in general actively shut down by the mainstream media as a high-level trend. We saw it on Q&A several weeks ago, we see it daily in the major newspapers — who, even if they will cover the NBN, tend to criticise it heavily and support the Coalition’s ridiculous revamp of the project — and now we’re seeing it also on the nation’s main subscription TV news channel.

We have now, over a period of two weeks, seen two very concrete examples where Australia’s Federal Communications Minister and Shadow Communications Minister have been invited onto major national TV interview programs, only to have any discussion of the NBN — their main policy area and Australia’s largest ever infrastructure project — shut down completely on air by the host by the host.

It may be possible to understand some of the specific reasons this is happening. But as a gross trend, it’s appalling. Malcolm Turnbull is Australia’s Communications Minister. What sort of questions do we really think we should be asking him? Jason Clare is his Shadow. What sort of issues do we really expect Clare to raise in a live interview context? The NBN is clearly the most important issue which either of these two politicians could talk about. And yet Sky News and the ABC both appear to see the issue as only a minor one. It’s a disturbing situation; and I will continue to point it out as we see further examples of the trend.

Image credit: Screenshot of Sky News broadcast, believed to be covered under fair dealing


  1. “If you want to look at what’s more important, the NBN will be cheaper to build over the next ten years than the Paid Parental Leave Scheme”

    This! I have been making this comparison for years now, glad to see politicians cotton on to the comparative prices of the two projects. Especially considering the PPL will never earn one cent of that cost back in revenue.

  2. It’s disgusting how little airtime this issue is getting. I can think of no other issue of quite the same importance as this national infrastructure project.

    Surely it deserves more coverage, but everyone’s too busy arguing about some kind of supposed budget emergency. Sigh.

  3. Gilbert said he didn’t “want to get caught up on the NBN,”
    Then why have the Shadow Minister for Communications on if you are not going to talk about communication? *head explodes*

  4. Renai.. I actually believe it’s conspiracy.. The evidence is there.. As you stated..: “Federal Communications Minister and Shadow Communications Minister have been invited onto major national TV interview programs, only to have any discussion of the NBN — their main policy area and Australia’s largest ever infrastructure project — shut down completely on air by the host by the host.” Don’t tell me that’s a coincidence? Surely it’s appropriate to focus on their portfolios?

    • We’ll find out if there is ever a full debate over the NBN on tv..
      “and Welcome to the NBN Debate! Now for the first ques… Oh I’m sorry we are out of time”
      *que theme music for the next 45 minutes*

  5. My experience talking with lay-persons is they simply don’t want to talk about it – people roll their eyes like I’m on some kind of soap box. Either they realise it is crippled and there’s no point going on about it, or they think I’m pro-labour scaremongering. They lack appropriate knowledge of the issue or ability to appreciate it (or simple interest because they honestly think it’s just for porn & piracy) so they are actively hostile towards anyone technical who raises it.

    Do you think mainstream media are simply catering to the attention cycle of their audience? No point starting a 15min segment that will have viewers switching channels. I’d be very interested in a study that tried to gauge the interest level (and hostility level) of the general public across at least 10k individuals.

    • “My experience talking with lay-persons is they simply don’t want to talk about it – people roll their eyes like I’m on some kind of soap box. Either they realise it is crippled and there’s no point going on about it, or they think I’m pro-labour scaremongering.”

      That’s because the MSM have done such a good job on behalf of the LNP and their God, Murdoch, of mis-informing the public about the NBN project, and pushing the LNP perspective. Huge vested self-interest… shut down the NBN, and the MSM continues on as they always have, without any new competition from their biggest threat ever.

      “People should suffer for their stupidity. Too bad most aren’t even aware of it.”

      And too bad that those of us who ‘are’ aware, and who tried to do something about it, and will also have to suffer for ‘their’ stupidity.

      The next nail in the coffin will be the announcement that the NBN cannot be completed in any reasonable time-frame, for any reasonable amount of money, and therefore should be cancelled altogether.
      (or handed-over to Telstra for peanuts… and another generation of monopoly broadband)

      Naturally, the LNP and MSM will put the blame for this back onto the Labor party. The majority of the general public will most likely believe everything they say. Telstra shareholders will rejoice.

  6. Kieran Gilbert didn’t have a clue.. Just parroted a typical LNP script and quickly shut down the nbn discussion.. Appalling..

  7. Its abit hipcitical to say “Mainstream media is censoring NBN dicussion” then censor any comments that appear on delimiter, which give a different pov of possiblity of censorship and suggesting their maybe simple logically reason behind it

    Rather then spooky conspiracy reality version of murdoch puppeting the media.

    You have 5 min spot. You need to give equal time to each subject and you cant focus on 3 mins on NBN, when you have 5 points you want to talk about.

    • “censor any comments that appear on delimiter, which give a different pov of possiblity of censorship”

      huh? Not sure what you’re talking about here.

      • ‘Not sure what you’re talking about here’…

        Neither am I, it sometimes helps to understand comments when they contain a modicum of literacy… just, sayin’…

      • A previous comments about ABC ‘censoring’ content disappeared from the site.

        About the context of preventing a TV show about being attacked/hijacked by outsider influences or protest groups. Show like ABC need to take a fair and balanced method

        As ABC has demonstrated in the past. Qanda had previously shutdown dicussion even before liberals came into power

        Sky News is a TV show like Qanda and when you have good understanding of TV production. You’ve got a small 5 mins spot for a guest and then your presentor/host has 3-5 agenda points. So 10-15 seconds for the presenters questions, then 45 seconds given to the guest fair ammount of airspace to provide a response

        When someone goes over that 45 seconds and no time for followup questions. Presentor will automatically move to the next question/agenda or step-in to move the person along

        Has Sky News presented a fair arguement on NBN issue in the past. Yes!

        I can think back in 2007 previous OPEL attempt was broadcast as debate (youtube it)

    • Adam, Got an examples of this? I’ve seen arguments here from both ‘sides’ of the NBN debate. I’d hardly think it is happening, just more pro-NBN people on here.

      • Yeah Delimiter is one of the least moderated comments section I’ve seen (in a good way).
        As long as you don’t break the rules (insults etc), Renai lets most things through.

      • Actually, the reason may be that this is an evidence based site and they just don’t have a strong or rational case

    • Yet to see cited evidence, unlike in the above article, so until that happens…

    • Yeah gotta say that Delimiter has been one of the few places where conversation wasn’t censored that much. Even when some of the posters were repeatedly caught out in lies and mistruths.

      In one way it was annoying in another it was good, because everytime they mispoke, someone came along and shot them down in intelligent and concise ways (well usually).

    • Hey Adam,

      People are just wondering, if they only have a 5 minute spot, why invite the Shadow Minister for Communications on to the show to ask him about family payments? Why shut down the session if the shadow minister actually tries to talk about…you know…something that actually has something to do with his portfolio…

      Why are people accepting this crap, seriously…

      • > People are just wondering, if they only have a 5 minute spot, why invite the Shadow Minister for Communications on to the show to ask him about family payments? Why shut down the session if the shadow minister actually tries to talk about…you know…something that actually has something to do with his portfolio…

        Maybe because the feed on Jason Clare’s youtube channel appears to show that he has a regular spot on Sky News talking to Kieran Gilbert.

  8. It is so sad to hear to Turnbull’s MTM sound bites regurgitated as gospel, especially from a journalist. Apply 10 minutes of critical thinking to his mess, and it is impossible to think that : “it’s just they hope to have a less expensive version of it”.

    In what universe will a business model that has been rejected by companies around the World, suddenly work out cheaper in Australia? Even BT has seen the light with fibre (, so that tenuous justification of Malcolm’s has now completely evaporated.

    • Unfortunately, BT’s use of the term “Fibre” means FTTN, as I discovered when my relatives received all manner of offers to ‘connect to fibre broadband’
      It’s a con ( calling FTTN ‘fibre’ ) that even Malcolm Turnbull is not trying.

  9. Hi Renai,
    May i suggest asking Shadow Minister Clare about this? See if he felt that the topic was “killed”? Or his views on the lack of media coverage recently regarding the NBN? I’d be curious to hear his views.

    I agree that the NBN seems to have taken a back seat. I am hoping that in a week or two coverage will return once all the discussions on the budget are over.

  10. Although it is good Clare came out and tried to discuss the issue, for the most part labor is not really doing anything about it. They seem to be keeping their heads down for various reasons.

    Once the budget is done and dusted, it will be interesting to see if the NBN discussion picks up again. If it doesn’t, then something really is wrong.

      • Well, these days relying on the media is not the only avenue to be heard. Just goto the labor website, no mention of the NBN anywhere except in passing as supporting evidence for other policies. On the labor youtube page the last NBN related video was 8 months ago (the election). The last labor twitter post about the NBN was over a month ago. Jason Clare made a post on twitter regarding the NBN and blacktown last week, but nothing really substantial. Nothing relevant to recent developments with turnbull and the NBN.

        So yeah, labor don’t appear to be doing anything. If the mainstream media really were shutting things down i would think that labor would be making a lot of noise through other means. The fact that they are not tells me that in some way labor is just keeping their heads down and the coalition and mainstream media are taking advantage of the situation to ignore the NBN.

  11. We live in a Murdocracy.. Only one team allowed.. Conroy, Your cut. Jason, cut. Ludlam,cut. vanbadham, cut. Husic, cut.. And so on..

  12. It’s obviously a duck. quack, quack.

    I gave up on issues like this when the Public Interest Test for media ownership was labelled as limiting free speech & media… and people believed it.
    People should suffer for their stupidity. Too bad most aren’t even aware of it.
    Government and big business are always holding a swingers party but this is turning out to be the biggest orgy ever.
    /negative rant

    Good that someone speaks out. Thank you.

  13. The reporter did do the right thing to keep the conversation on track however the reported should of known about the fact that the NBN is a infrastructure project so to ask about infrastructure and not expect something about the NBN is either incompetent or naive.

    Whenever I mention the NBN is use Roads/Plumbing as examples for people to understand in layman terms.

    The NBN is the most critical piece of infrastructure for the next 50-100 years so spending big now means future generations will not have to pay for it.

    Building more roads going to the same place just moves the traffic problems closer to the destination e.g. sydney this is how you get traffic jams.

    More money should be going into the NBN and RAIL not roads.

    • Mm agree, we are designing and constructing some of the most expensive road works currently in Perth’s history, by the time they are constructed they will still be behind the population boost by 2 years.

  14. “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it’s enemy action.” Goldfinger

    We’ve seen it twice now. We’ll know for sure next time.

    • I’ll up you on that!
      “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”- President Bush.

    • that was an excellent read. am in total agreeance; ive long thought we cant just rely on farms and mines, we really should be investing in at least a couple more strings to our bows. but the resistance to taking chances and the hold the ageing fuddyduddy cohort have on our business and investment decisions is really doing us a disservice, as a nation.

      i really fear that we’ve had the chance, and we’ve cocked it. and every year we keep ourselves satisfied with the stat quo is another year read = money to catch up on those who have been braver than us and already moved off. hell that first comment is instructive – coming from South Africa(!) and the commentator sees a clear risk aversion/no taking chances bias… if we arent careful there will be nations we used to think ourselves ahead of embarrassing us, showing they get it while we flail around trying to get a handle on things. i am not sanguine on our chances, as things stand.

  15. Occam’s razor, there’s no mass conspiracy simply:

    – A well packaged and delivered set of anti-NBN sloganeering which helped the coalition get elected and helps News Corp business interests namely:

    1. Labor stuffed everything up, the NBN is just another example on a massive scale
    2. Labor had a ‘gold plated solution’ which we can’t afford, but of course geeks want it (GenX/Y sense of entitlement) – Pr0n, Pirates & Gamers
    3. Liberals will focus on those areas who need it first and use a mix of technologies to get it to you cheaper

    All utter bollocks, but hey whoever said the truth makes a good story?

    So, 99% of Joe Public switch off once you dig into any of these issues and try and explain the importance of this complex technical infrastructure.

    No TV based media wants to broadcast 20 minutes of Paul Budde explain the limits of vectoring or the advantages of GPON architecture.

    Punters simply switch off.

    So, much as I would would like to don the tinfoil hat and cry conspiracy, the truth is probably that Tony Jones (et al) have simply been down the path and the answer (although important) cannot be delivered in a three word slogan and they are sick and tired of having producers screaming in their ear to change the bloody topic to something interesting!

    The failing is ours. The IT savvy community have not managed to come up with strong enough messages which are simple to understand and compelling enough to sway the average Australian reader or listener to 2GB.

    Until we do that, or get John Howard to say ‘buying back a country full of old copper to build a mish-mash network which will cost almost as much to build as FTTP and cost a king’s ransom to maintain is nuts – We either do it properly or not at all’

    We need to win the ideological battle, not argue the technical one.

    • “We need to win the ideological battle, not argue the technical one.”

      That was lost prior to the election. Media jumped on juicy sound bites of “faster, sooner” and never applied critical thinking, or looked back.

      This is what happens when you rip out quality journalism and replace with delivery of lobbyist propaganda.

      Folks don’t give a shit about the detail. Don’t understand half of it. Turnbull simply said he can deliver pretty much the same thing for much less.

      How he does that won’t really matter to most. As long as *something* happens, then he’s got a free pass.

      Meanwhile, people will simply inhale ‘truth’ i.e. whatever is spoon feed to them, wrapped neatly in commercials – because they presume the journalist has applied critical thinking for them (always has in the past, thus simple presumption is that they always will).

      The masses are sheep. Easily led. Listen to any talk-back station to be reminded of how trivially easy it is.

  16. Oh Dear, just when you think it cant get worse, it does.. Jason Clare is gagged, but Ziggy has no trouble getting the Propaganda out.. No thanks to News Ltd..

    NBN chief Ziggy Switkowski says $41bn cost ‘money well spent’
    NBN Co chairman Ziggy Switkowski says spending $41 billion on the National Broadband Network would be “money well spent” despite a brutal federal budget looming next week.

    $41 b on Copper?? Well Spent?? We could have FTTH for that…

    • When he was saying “Well spent” he was looking at his new mansion and his garage full of cars.. I would be saying well spent too :)

    • Switkowski makes quite a bit of sense regarding how counterproductive it was for the rollout to be as fragmented as it was, so I’m not getting antsy about that at all and agree with it – running backhaul to every new estate in the country that fall back on the provider of last resort was pretty much ass backwards.

      But the bit that really gets me about this article is the very last line:

      > He also said that the 100 megabits per second average speed by 2020 “would be about right”.

      100 Mbps. Average. Within about 5 years. By rolling out tens of thousands of nodes, all of which needing to be paid off and all, that might do something like 100 Mbps-ish maximum? I don’t get it. Are we at a point where our media will just randomly accept random comments that make absolutely no sense in lieu of at least having retyped press releases and outsourced critical thinking? Are we at a point where I can just run a Markov generator and get published in The Australian? Because with that kind of statement, that’s what it feels like.

      • I’m gone over the logical progression of Moores Law with internet speeds, and ~100 Mbps by 2020 is about right.

        Thats never been the issue for me, its been 2 years after that. Or 2 years after THAT, and so on. Speeds double every 2 years, and have done so for a good 20 years now. Why is that rate suddenly going to stop in 2020?

        It wont. We’ll have more devices wanting 4G type speeds, all connected to your home network, and all contending for bandwidth, so what we need will still go up.

        And what happens then? If 100 Mbps is the norm in 2020, how do we get to 200 Mbps in 2022? Or 400 Mbps by 2024? If its taking ~10 years to roll this infrastructure out, how long will it take to upgrade everyone post-FttN?

        Willing to bet it will be more than 2 years.

  17. Both cases are quite understandable.

    For the ABC, any realistic NBN discussion can only be concidered to be pro Labour, so it is avoided.

    For Sky, any realistic NBN discussion could be concidered to be anti-LNP and against News Corp financial interests.

    It is easy to see why this has happened.

  18. In the context of “this government is investing in infrastructure” it’s an entirely valid discussion to have. Especially when you’ve got the shadow communications minister there for 5mins. So the discussion shouldn’t have been shut down.

    That said “good journalism” usually involves playing the devil’s advocate. So standing there and “parroting” Liberal party talking points when you’ve got an ALP dude there is fair enough. As long as you turn the tables when the other side has the 5mins. Although I doubt that they would have brought up the NBN as a counter to “infrastructure investment” when the Lib sycophant of the day was dragged on. Because as we have seen the NBN is only talked about when brought up by its supporters.

    And that’s the problem here. They shut down the pro-NBN comments from those who support it and won’t bring up the pro-NBN argument as a counter to those against it.

  19. What`s really amazing in comparison is the amount of attention that the NBN received pre-election compared to post election.

    It`s pretty obvious that there`s a suppression of public information going on now by the Coalition and but more importantly also by the media.

  20. Admittedly an interview with Turnbull would be better spent summarising;

    “The Liberal NBN, Not Faster, not cheaper. marginally sooner, with no CBA. Yes Mr. Turnbull, its all Labour’s fault, now about the budget…”

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