Turnbull dumps ABC spots; 7:30 dumps NBN talk


news Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has cancelled four scheduled appearances on various ABC television and radio shows over the past month, it emerged yesterday, as last night yet another ABC flagship cut short a discussion of Australia’s largest ever infrastructure project, the NBN, with the portfolio minister responsible for it.

Over the past month, Delimiter has published a number of articles providing evidence that the ABC is avoiding coverage of the National Broadband Network issue; and especially the Coalition’s highly controversial and unpopular modification of the project.

For example, Malcolm Turnbull has appeared on the ABC’s flagship discussion show Q&A 12 times since he was appointed Shadow Communications Minister in late 2010, but has faced extended questions on the NBN (his main policy area) just once. On all other occasions, the host has actively shut down the topic after only brief discussion or avoided it completely. Other ABC flagships such as 7:30 have covered the NBN topic only sporadically and not in depth (for example, up until yesterday 7:30 had not covered the NBN at all in 2014).

Where the NBN has been covered in detail by the ABC, it appears mainly to have been the efforts of individual passionate journalists which has spurred such coverage. However, those reporters have been sequentially deterred from pursuing that coverage. Lateline co-host Emma Alberici had her pro-NBN article delayed until after the Federal Election, when its impact would be severely diminished. ABC Technology + Games editor Nick Ross has largely ceased writing on the topic after his NBN coverage was featured on Media Watch. And another reporter who had been covering the NBN, Jake Sturmer was reassigned.

Yesterday it was revealed that it was not only the ABC itself, but also Turnbull that had contributed to the broadcaster’s dearth of high-level coverage on the issue.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday that the Communications Minister had pulled out of four previously scheduled appearances on the ABC’s flagship shows since the Federal Budget in early May, including two appearances on 7:30, one on the ABC’s AM program, and one on Insiders. The newspaper appended part of the blame to a restrictive media policy set by the office of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Turnbull did finally appear on 7:30 last night for a prolonged interview (we recommend you click here for the full broadcast and transcript). The interview had been scheduled earlier this week to be mainly on the topic of the National Broadband Network. However, as with previous appearances on shows such as Q&A, Turnbull’s discussion of the NBN was cut short by the show’s host.

“As we agreed earlier in the week, I’m coming on to talk to you about the very considerable progress of the NBN under the new Government, and that’s what I’d like to talk about,” Turnbull told host Sarah Ferguson. “We have made great progress of pulling this failed Labor project into line.”

However, despite the interview having been arranged largely for the NBN topic, Ferguson quickly segued off the topic, shifting the topic immediately to discussion of Turnbull’s fractious relationships with conservative commentators Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones, which has flared up as a topic this week following a dinner Turnbull held with Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer and several others.

“Can we move back onto the NBN?” asked Turnbull after a prolonged discussion. However, Ferguson insisted on further discussion of the Palmer dinner, leaving only several minutes for discussion of the NBN at the end of the program.

In addition, Ferguson also failed to ask Turnbull about one of the most controversial issues to have recently affected the project.

On Wednesday this week, NBN Co took the extraordinary step of hiring one of the most senior executives of media organisation News Corp Australia to be its new chief financial officer, in a move which caused an instant uproar in Australia’s technology sector, as it bolstered theories about the Coalition having a close connections with the Murdoch publishing empire. The executive, long-time News Corp CFO Stephen Rue, has strong credentials as a chief financial officer but does not appear to have experience in the telecommunications sector.

The news of Rue’s appointment was interpreted by much of Australia’s telecommunications sector as confirming what had previously been seen as speculation or even conspiracy theory that the current Coalition Federal Government was seeking to water down Labor’s ambitious FTTP NBN project to protect the existing interests of industry giants such as News Corp, especially the company’s Foxtel cable television joint venture with Telstra.

In his biography published last week, former independent MP Rob Oakeshott explicitly claimed there was a connection between the Coalition’s broadband policies and News Corp.

The Coalition’s policy has the “potential to return millions and millions of dollars in future profits” to News Limited and Telstra through Foxtel, Oakeshott reportedly wrote in the book. “As much as I have personal regard for Malcolm Turnbull, I think his telecommunications policy is wholly owned by Telstra and News Limited. It does nothing for consumers, and is a massive win for a couple of corporate boards.”

Speaking in Senate Estimates last week, ABC managing director Mark Scott insisted there was no “conspiracy” to censor coverage of the NBN topic on the broadcaster’s shows, stating that the ABC had published some 150 articles on the topic since September last year.

“There’s no overarching policy or direction around coverage of NBN issues. Our editors, our executive producers, our journalists exercise their editorial judgement under the window of our editorial policies on which they operate on stories … I am aware that there are people in the technology press who would like us to cover NBN issues all day every day. Our editors and producers make their editorial judgement, and they have no overarching instructions in doing so.”

If I was writing a murder mystery, this would be the point where I would suck on my pipe and utter darkly … “and the plot thickens further”.

Last night we saw, yet again, one of the ABC’s flagship shows fail to substantially discuss the NBN topic with the portfolio Minister responsible for it. For God’s sake, 7:30 actually scheduled an interview with Turnbull specifically on the topic of the NBN earlier this week, as the Minister himself said on air — and then spent the vast majority of the interview time pressuring Turnbull about his spat with Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones. When host Sarah Ferguson did get around to talking to Turnbull about the NBN — for the first time in 2014 — the host allocated just several minutes to discuss the topic.

In addition, Ferguson failed to ask Turnbull about the most controversial issue in the NBN area this week — the hotly debated appointment of a long-time senior News Corp lieutenant to the post of NBN Co CFO. I can tell you that that news of that appointment has been a huge traffic generator for Delimiter this week. The Australian public is deeply interested in it. And yet it was ignored last night — just like Lateline host Tony Jones ignored the issue of NBN Co turfing three of its most senior executives, when he interviewed Turnbull on April 10 this year, the day that move was announced.

At the same time, we have Turnbull actively cancelling no less than four scheduled interviews with the ABC over the past month since the Federal Budget, leading to those shows also lacking coverage of the NBN topic.

To be honest, I don’t quite know what to think of all this.

Clearly, as I’ve pointed out previously, the ABC is lacking in-depth NBN coverage right now. When it does cover the topic, as we saw last night, that coverage is often tokenistic and and overshadowed by other political matters. I don’t blame the broadcaster for covering a cat fight between conservative politicians and the commentators who normally support them (who isn’t interested in that?!) … but I wouldn’t like coverage of Australia’s largest ever infrastructure project to suffer as a result, as it clearly did last night on 7:30. And clearly Turnbull has also tried to rein in some of his media appearances, perhaps spurred by commandments being issued by Tony Abbott’s office.

However, the reasons why all this is occurring continue to be wreathed in mist. I’d love to have been privy to 7:30’s editorial discussion before the Turnbull interview last night. One does wonder why, after not having covered the NBN at all this year, the show finally asked the Communications Minister on to discuss the topic, and then ended up discussing the NBN for a mere couple of minutes. The mind boggles. I mean, it’s not as if the Member for Wentworth is in charge of a $30 billion, highly controversial, national infrastructure project, or anything. Oh, that’s right …

Image credit: Screenshot of 7:30 broadcast, believe to be covered under Fair Dealing


  1. Totally over it. Sick to the back teeth with all the BS about Turnbull, his MTM, his jobs for mates and political appointments, his faux inquiries. The BS has become so deep, thick, and smelly it’s not even worth discussing.
    He and the rest of them just need to piss off.

  2. Maybe Renai, you should try to get ‘The Checkout’ to do a half hour expose on the NBN.

    It is unfortunately a niche issue for a lot of people. Topics such as celebrity gossip, mass shootings and The Royals have a much higher importance. Commercial enterprises, let alone the ABC, doesn’t want to discuss this.

    We know this is a highly crucial piece of infrastructure for the future of this country. But the people are not dumb, just ignorant. Ignorance is bliss.

    • The ABC and SBS should be two stations mostly immune to that kind of pap. They aren’t supposed to need to rely on their viewership to bring in the money.

  3. Perhaps we could get Shaun Micallef to some education on the NBN in a similar way that John Oliver did for Net neutrality

          • Actually though, the HFC thing changes a lot — the addition of HFC into the mix has made it almost impossible to explain the new policy to anyone, in my experience. People just end up going … “WTF?!”

          • Good point, HFC is just a giant black box atm – DOCSIS 3.1 has future potential, but to realise it Foxtel would need to be kicked off the HFC at the very least.

          • Almost all…

            Unbelievably there are still those who faithfully believe and to keep all warm and fuzzy, keep rehashing the negatives of pink batts, school halls and a supposed financial disaster…

            Gotta love their faithfulness, if nothing else.

          • I wonder if any other country that was laying FTTN/FTTP has had this much bloody trouble? :/

          • unfortunately a fibre based FTTP network will never work and cannot be built. This is my professional opinion. The reason is because the connecting pit & pipe network that feeds from the main trunks to each house in australia was never designed to support fibre – repeating again – NEVER DESIGNED FOR FIBRE.

            Of course when the original pit/pipe that was put into the millions of homes in Australia fibre technology didnt exist unless it was in very expensive gov. and company networks, and universities. But because there was never even the slightest inkling that this technology will ever be deployed to the home, the network itself was only built to support the technology at the time, which is twisted copper pair. ie. fit for purpose.

            The reason why I say a FTTP aust-wide network cannot be built is because of one main things… which in essence comes down to massive costs to build it, over and above the estimated 43Bn. One thing is that the majority of australias pit and pipe is not suitable for large volume fibre cables, as such without significant upgrading and duplication of the size of these ducts (which are 30+ years old) a fibre cable cannot sit in the the existing copper ducts and not risk high fault from damage, this due to the fragile nature of fibre cables, which can fail if being bent or with pressure, something copper pair is immune to.

            This is why in greenfield new estates the ducts installed are fibre suitable (ie. fit for purpose), and there is no issue with this, these ducts are larger and less prone to collapse, which would damage the fragile cable and cause widespread outages, at cumulative high cost to repair. This is something the inital project study should have realised if the gov. didnt ignore it, and that such a project is in essence not feasible.

          • “The reason why I say a FTTP aust-wide network cannot be built is because of one main things… which in essence comes down to massive costs to build it,”

            Considering the pits/pipes were already leased and Telstra had agreed to remediate them under that cost, your “professional” point is pretty well worthless….

          • Not only a great and clear explanation, an updated “story” would be even better.

            1000mbps vs “UP TO…” 25mbps
            Not only can they no longer manage 25mbps, its no longer as cheap as it was going to be, and they havent admitted how much to copper is going to cost, so it may not cost less at all.
            It is also progressing so slowly that its unlikely to be sooner at all.

            Finally, with the implementation of the honour’s roll, Mr Turnbull can not only become Mr Broadband, but he is nominated for the title of Copper Count. {nice graphic with rolls of copper representing the ‘o’ letters}

            Perhaps Sean would record a new version for Delimiter? would be great stickied on the website, even better if anyone willing could embed it in their websites.

  4. Hey, something’s just occurred to me. The last substantive article Nick Ross posted re the NBN was this one, about the state of the copper:

    Published 12 days after the federal election last year. It obviously took quite a bit of research & effort to pull that article together, over a reasonable period of time.

    And yet, it was published just two weeks *after* the election…

    I wonder when it was originally *ready* to be published? [one raised eyebrow, fingles steepled]

    • @Bern

      Good point. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. I know that Nick Ross uses Twitter, I wonder if someone here with a Twitter account might be kind enough to ask him about it.

  5. I was pretty appointed with that interview last night, that Bolt/Jones crap is really getting too much air-time anyway, it’s not like they have huge followings, so who the hell actually cares really?

    I like how Sarah “stops the waffling” from pollies (much like her hubby Tony Jones), but the NBN section of the interview just turned out to be a fluffy press release.

    Quit with towing the agenda the right wing trolls are setting ABC!! If you really want to cover right wing issues, use issues from the serious commentators, not the clowns…

  6. Why did she not bring up the hypocrisy of starting the FTTN switchover without completing his CBA??

    It’s like no one in the media gives a shit and I think I’ve given myself colon cancer by caring too much. I wish I was blissfully ignorant of the mess we are in :(

  7. I’m not one for prayer, but an act of god, such as a case of mass heart attacks, lemming-like behavior involving jumping off buildings and lethal farts after a night of mexican food, is probably what it’s going to take , to take out this idiot and his anti-intellectual friends.

    Please god, strike this Mal-content down where he stands.

  8. I’ve said this before (and I felt a bit crazy for saying it) but, Turnbull has clearly been at odds with Abbott previously, leadership of the Libs has definitely been an issue. Did Abbott stick Turnbull with the Communications Minister job just to scuttle the NBN and kill two birds with one stone? Are the ABC aware of this and avoiding making Turnbull look bad in the hopes that he can eventually oust Abbott (the Newscorp marionette)?

    Speculating on the motives of these pricks seems to help with the depression they’re causing me.

  9. Ferguson: How difficult was it for you to find a use for the obsolete copper and cable infrastructure?
    MT: …

    Tony & Malcom added value to the copper & cable before he started negotiations for using the copper and cable.
    Obvious isn’t it.

    He gave jobs to all his business mates who are somehow mysteriously involved with the once obsolete ‘assets’ above.

    ABC has been told to be good by Tony or he’ll take away more $.

  10. I know this would be a sort of “why dont you do it yourself” thing – but I wouldn’t know where to start.

    But if anyone were to put together an ad (not necessarily TV) simply with some copy and a link to a website such as delimiter, or nbnmyths – or even a new URL ‘NBNtruths’ – I would definitely contribute cash to it.

    Copy such as ” The NBN truths Malcolm doesn’t want you to know – go to NBNtruths (dot) com for the real facts”

    One reason I think the media is not talking about this enough is because I do not think the general public even know what is going on, or they are not talking enough because they dont quite understand what exactly is wrong. People like my parents, my partners parents, friends and work mates my age (24).

    This is probably a silly idea – but I thought I’d share it anyway. Better to speak out rather than keep it to myself I guess.

    • I’d support a crowdfunded ad campaign to raise some awareness about this issue, I also wouldn’t know where to start. A big problem with this is that the majority of media in this country would not be interested in using their services to advertise this for anyone unless they were offering major $. Why advertise something that threatens your business interests? Without the mainstream you would end up advertising to people who are already aware of the problem.

      • Possibly a Nationwide mailout, add in some humour and cartoons to keep the public amused and reading, maybe even a competition for a car, correctly answer a series of questions to qualify for entry.

        Wouldn’t be cheap, but could be done. Better than those dry as dust booklets and brochures we get sent

  11. The ABC’s news coverage overall is atrocious. Omissions, errors and distortions are the order of the day.
    Mark Scott is a pathetic individual and his weakness is being reflected throughout the ABC.
    Contact ABC reporters at lastname.firstname@abc.net.au

  12. I hardly think Ferguson pushing Turnbull on leadership is a sign of not wanting to talk Abbott the nbn. It’s just a better topic. As the election showed, the nbn is not a top priority for most people.

    Maybe there is a conspiracy at the ABC, but this isn’t a sign of it.

    • I think gossip columns are a much better place for that kind of “news”…the only leadership challenge was in the bizzare little world of AB and AJ…

  13. Something important for commenters on this website to keep in mind is that while the NBN is of enormous importance to all of us here, out in the non-tech world it is just one area of policy that has to compete for airtime with everything else happening in the political sphere, much of which is of greater concern to Australians than the NBN. The readers of Delimiter are a very small, self-selected group with a particular interest in technology issues in Australia. It’s inevitable that the Delimiter audience will perceive the “hostile media effect” (look it up) with regard to NBN issues.

    A prime example is when Nick Ross wrote in 2012, “If the public knew the truth about the NBN, and believed that the Coalition wanted to destroy it, then Labor would have an unassailable lead in the polls right now … I’m deadly serious.” He assumes that if average Australians had a decent understanding of the NBN, they would necessarily place it high on the list of issues they care dearly about and a large number of them would change their vote accordingly. But the reality is that Australians are a very diverse bunch who also care about schools, roads, taxes, healthcare and a wide range of other issues.

    It was quite reasonable for Sarah Ferguson to ask Turnbull about the Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones fiasco, as it had received a large amount of media attention during the few days prior, and directly involved him. While we may question the media’s editorial judgement for wasting airtime and print space on such a moronic issue, it is hardly evidence of the ABC having an “avoid NBN” policy.

    Even the ABC’s explanation that Q&A did not get to the NBN questions because they “ran out of time” is plausible. We don’t have enough information to say definitively that the NBN questions were deliberately censored. If they were, is it not possible to find a whistleblower or leaked memos from within the ABC that can confirm this? All evidence thus far is circumstantial.

    Individual ABC staff can be reached through lastname.firstname@abc.net.au. Renai, how about starting with people like Nick Ross and Jake Sturmer whom you allege have been reassigned to keep them quiet? There have been several posts now on Delimiter alleging that the ABC deliberately avoids the NBN, but all are based on the circumstantial observations that the NBN gets skipped over for other topics, or the dates on which certain articles are published, or the assignments of various ABC personnel, rather than actual first-hand evidence explaining who is making the decision to suppress coverage, why that decision was made and how it is being implemented. I know this is asking a lot, but for an ABC-wide policy on NBN coverage to be effective, it would need to be written down, or at the very least, communicated verbally to a substantial number of journalists, editors and producers, many of whom would be uncomfortable with such an edict.

    I do not intend this as a personal attack on Renai or any commenters, but as a good faith attempt to point out possible confirmation bias in all the hand-wringing on Delimiter and elsewhere about the ABC’s NBN coverage.

    To date, the only allegation to be properly substantiated is that Nick Ross was summoned to “have a little chat” with his supervisor Bruce Belsham (Media Watch, 11 March 2013). To prove allegations regarding ABC cover-ups on Q&A, 7:30, Lateline, and The Drum, it is not simply enough to affirm the consequent. You can always find a pattern if you look for one; Bolt and Jones’ recent reporting on Turnbull is a great example of just that.

    • Disagree, this project is massively significant for Australia’s economy in general and is receiving far less coverage than it should. The “there is lots of important things to cover” doesn’t explain the lack of, or onesided-ness of the coverage provided.

      • I know what Mark’s saying, but I agree with Dissapointed…

        Personally, I am not involved in comms or IT whatsoever and have no political ties… but being so, having educated myself over many years on the issues alone, sans political or IT bias, even a poor dumb layman like me can see that FttP is the way to go… (which is why I have had so many heated arguments with political shills :( )

        So, perhaps, just perhaps if the MSM/pay TV operators weren’t so afraid to embrace change and became innovators instead of just trying to cling to their horse and carriage profits/views… then more laymen like me, could also be made aware and therefore understand the benefits for all Aussies and our nation as a whole….

        But like Kodak trying to fight the digital camera, instead of embracing and innovating… MSM have more clout and will simply do all they can to kill off the threat…

    • “It was quite reasonable for Sarah Ferguson to ask Turnbull about the Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones fiasco”

      I disagree.

      The “leadership challenge” was only ever a figment of Andrew Bolts imagination, and the ABC spending so much time on it only fed his ego.

      I do not pay my ABC tax so they can run a gossip channel in a prime time news slot.

  14. Honestly, the 7:30 report outcome was driven by the ongoing leadership speculation. Between that and Bolt showing remarkable fealty in trying to defend Abbott from some supposed threat, it was a give-in.

    All forms of media fall over for this; it’s just too tempting. Frankly this was less a ‘conspiracy’ and more the case that leadership speculation isn’t being helped by Turnbull’s “I’m not! but maybe..” responses.

    He’s not closing the door on speculation. Which only fuelled more questions. Keep digging Malclom; we all know you want the job back, you’re just not as obvious as Rudd was.

    As for Turnbull desperately wanting to speak of the NBN instead, I found quite hilarious. Quite the oxymoron.

    Turns out all you need to do, is ask leadership questions and he’ll fall over himself to demand the topic shift to the thing he never wants to talk about.

    You should try that tactic, Renai. ;)

    Not surprised press outings are being cancelled by the government. Between Abbott and Turnbull the press are having a field day. Neither are helping their party sell anything. Lest of all, policies.

    No, Renai, this wasn’t a case of active silencing. Not this time. Just a journo chasing a story and a guy who likes to be in front of the camera, being put on the spot.

  15. I think the recent commentary in regard to the US and cable company monopolies with the Net Neutrality arrangements is a perfect example of the risks we have in Australia with this project.

    It’s not simply a case of the technology but the corporate and government arrangements that will determine future competition and the rights/opportunities for consumers.

    I am disappointed in the Government for the amount of FUD and the way they are proceeding. I am not surprised at the behaviour of the mainstream media as they have specific financial interest in the failure of the FTTH plan – or any plan that results in an extremely capable network that they do not control.

    I support many of the visions that an LNP Government sets….. but I deplore the current and now common behaviours linked to massive corporate sponsorship.

    • It’s interesting that you raise this.

      I am in (almost daily) contact with a number of friends in the US. They too are looking at Google and wondering why the hell their Telco or Internet provider isn’t doing the same.

      Turns out, if you can maximise returns by not investing in technologies such as fibre, but simply extend existing aging cable and copper networks, that’s all you’ll do.

      The talk of Fibre deployments is mostly noise, outside of Google.

      If you can’t get Cable (which has become the massively oversubscribed mess we’ll start to see here) then you have xDSL. FTTN is pretty much non-existent. That’s pretty much it.

      Turnbull is simply mimicking the ‘big business’ approach to Internet, here. It might be a mix. But only of technologies that lock you into a topology you’ll never break out of.

      Eventually we’ll look at Google (or the next Google) rolling out fibre in AU, and wonder why the hell NBNco can’t.

      It’s the same outcome. We should really learn from that. But, who am I kidding.

      Back to boat people and leadership speculation. As you were.

      • The other folks rolling fibre in the US are communities, there’s actually a bunch of towns doing it themselves over there now days. The states have been lobbied hard to shut them down, but the FCC is apparently working to undermine the states regulation of them.

        And this is the mess Malcolm wants…

        • I think you will find the Google fibre and Verizon fibre to be not in the context of NBNCo FTTP project.

          Firstly, these builds would more than likely be greenfields, in that the ducts that would be built or which fibre would be pulled through are fibre suitable and compliant. This makes these projects at least controllable from a cost and project perspective. This could be similar to various Opticomm and Telstra Velocity estates.

          But NBNCo is proposing to build fibre to 93% of existing homse with copper services, where the duct network is not fibre suitable, to make it so would require signficiant civils works to replace or repair, which can be up to 10x the original esitmate to deliver fibre to the home.

  16. Darth Vader (played by Malcolm Turnbull): “Take the ABC’s Australia Network offline, it’s too much like a marketing campaign which our corporate buddies can do better.”

    Lando Calrissian (Mark Scott): “You said we could keep that if we shut up about the NBN!”

    Darth Vader: “I am altering the deal. Pray I do not alter it further!”


    Emperor Palpatine (Rupert Murdoch): “You’ve done well, Lord Vader. And now I sense you wish to continue your search for your lost soul.”
    Darth Vader: “Yes, my master.”
    Emperor Palpatine: “It was never lost, you fool. I bought it from you when you were in opposition and desperate for relevance!”

    (this is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead is merely coincidental).

Comments are closed.