The Canberra Times, 9 Nov 2011
, Bruce Haigh: "Acting on advice from the Australian Government Solicitor, the Minister for Communications, Stephen Conroy, has terminated the Australia Network process. The reason given is that due to leaks of confidential information to the media the tender process was compromised. Australia provides an excellent information service and window on Australia through the ABC's Radio Australia network. Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd put Australia's international television service, Australia Network, also provided by the ABC, out to tender. When it looked like the tender might be awarded to the Murdoch-controlled Sky TV, the Government shifted consideration to cabinet, or so it was thought. ... Australia Network is a good service. It was well run and it is logical that it should run in harness with Radio Australia. It is a vehicle that conveys important information about Australia and the means by which the Government can get carefully crafted messages through to political, business and military leaders in the region. Australia's public broadcaster can be and has been the conveyor of subtleties, not possible with Sky TV. Sky TV showed its colours by signing a memorandum of understanding with the government of China. No doubt the Chinese couldn't believe their luck. This MOU represents a very silly act of self-censorship. It gives the Chinese the power of veto over content they do not agree with. ... At best, the Sky TV news service is sloppy and often Murdoch-biased. It is not independent. It does not rate against ABC news services, programming and staff professionalism. Why project the national discourse through a second-rate provider? How will this enhance our national image or bolster our prestige within the region?" -- He complians that Sky TV is "Murdoch-biased," but seems proud of the fact that that Australian Networks sends "carefully crafted messages." Another reason why Australia Network must decide if it's product is news or "soft diplomacy." It can't be both.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 8 Nov 2011, Meredith Griffiths interviewing Alex Oliver of the Lowy Institute: "AM," "How much damage do you think this latest news of cancelling the tender will do to Australia's reputation? I mean, you're saying this is very important for our soft diplomacy. Will this latest setback damage our reputation overseas? Oliver: Uh... I don't know if this sort of thing in domestic politics gets that much attention overseas, but certainly it looks amateurish. And within the international broadcasting arena and fraternity, yes, the word will get around that the ABC is in limbo. And there will be some raised eyebrows about and shaking heads about what Australia is doing with respect to the ABC and this contract."
AAP, 9 Nov 2011: "In Senate question time on Wednesday, Liberal senator Simon Birmingham asked [Communications Minister Stephen Conroy] to clarify an answer he gave on Tuesday that the government was considering 'a full range of options' and would announce a decision in March 2012. Senator Birmingham asked the minister several times to explain what decision would be announced in March - a new tender process or a successful bidder? Senator Conroy declined to elaborate on the answer he gave to parliament on Tuesday. 'The good senator is asking me to speculate,' he said. Senator Birmingham interjected: 'It's a dirty process.'"
Media Spy, 8 Nov 2011, Timothy: "In a statement, Sky News' chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos expressed his surprise at the government's "extraordinary action" and noted that Sky was 'considering its options'. ... Frangopoulous also took a swipe at the current Australia Network service run by the ABC, stating that it is 'clear the current service has failed in its task and we see an opportunity to vastly improve Australia Network within existing funding levels and make it a network that its target audience wants to watch.'"
Crikey, 8 Nov 2011, Bernard Keane: "When Labor was first elected in 2007, it was said [then prime minister] Kevin Rudd had big ambitions for the Australia Network, in keeping with his big diplomatic ambitions. This was entirely consistent with past practice. The revived version of the network was a vanity project of revious foreign minister] Alexander Downer’s, and so it would be for Rudd, who despite the presence of Stephen Smith was his own foreign minister. But Downer, at least, was limited in his ambitions – he wanted to restore Radio Australia’s role in the Asia-Pacific and establish a broadcasting service to address the 'arc of instability' from the western Pacific around to Indonesia (this was the late 1990s, post-Asian financial crisis)."
Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Nov 2011, Julie Bishop (deputy leader of the Opposition): "The ongoing uncertainty about the Australia Network and its operations sends a negative message to our region that Australia does not take seriously this broadcasting service."
ABC, 8 Nov 2011: "Prime Minister Julia Gillard has defended the Government's decision, saying it was the right thing to do. 'There's an Australian Federal Police investigation. We received very clear advice from the Australian Government solicitor and we've acted in accordance with it,' she said. ... The Opposition says it is another example of the Government's incompetence. The ABC currently hosts the service, which is designed to showcase Australia's democratic values to TV viewers in the Asia-Pacific, but it was competing with Sky News to retain it. The ABC will keep operating the service until August next year while the Government resolves the issue."
The Age (Melbourne), 9 Nov 2011, Daniel Flitton: "Sky News said it planned a global television network of five channels, reaching the Middle East, the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia - including China, seen as a key market by Foreign Affairs officials. It said it also planned to broadcast news after setting up 11 foreign bureaus, and increase local language programs and subtitling across Asia." Mr. Flitton is also interviewed by Radio Australia's Connect Asia, 10 Nov 2011.
The Age (Melbourne), 11 Nov 2011, Daniel Flitton: "Sky News is believed to be seeking compensation for a range of losses after preparing two bids over nine months for the $223 million contract to run Australia's overseas television service. ... The Age understands Sky News sent the letter seeking compensation of between $700,000 and $2 million for the cost of preparing the tenders."
AAP, 9 Nov 2011, Julian Drape: "The federal opposition says the Gillard government cancelled the tender process for the Australia Network contract because it knew the independent evaluation board had recommended it be awarded to Sky News. Labor returned fire by suggesting the coalition had a vested interest in making sure the ABC didn't win the tender. The issue dominated a heated question time in the Senate on Thursday."
ABC, The Drum, 11 Nov 2011: "Senator Scott Ludlam, communications spokesperson for the Australian Greens: 'The phrase "the national interest" is regularly abused, but by any reasonable interpretation of the phrase, keeping the Australia Network in public hands is in the national interest.' ... Tim Wilson, Director of the IP and Free Trade Unit and Climate Change Policy at the Institute of Public Affairs: ... '[T]he Government was right to go to tender and should have given the contract to the most competitive bidder - Sky News.'" See also the reader comments.
Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Nov 2011, Greg Hassall: "In trying to decide who should run the Australia Network, ... the federal government has managed to appear incompetent and sneaky, expose internal divisions, provoke News Limited and give a minor issue undue significance. Oh, and it still hasn't made a decision."
The Australian, like Sky News part of the Murdoch media empire, also had several news stories and commentaries about the Australia Network tender, but they are behind a paywall.
See previous post about same subject.