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Nights with Steve Price 2GB

E & OE

STEVE PRICE:

Is it appropriate to use the c-word on television?

FIFIELD:

No. I don’t think it is. And particularly with the national broadcaster who receive, as you know, more than a billion dollars a year. They really should be seeking to set the community standard as to what’s acceptable. There was the use of that language. But also, as you’ve seen, that completely gratuitous and needless attack on someone who was committing the crime of putting themselves forward for public office.

PRICE:

So who should…

ANDREW BOLT:

Hang on a sec, for listeners who might not have tuned into our conversation yesterday we’re talking about two skits on the ABC. One was by some aboriginal comedians who repeatedly used the phrase, one people are c-word. They did beep it out, but it was absolutely clear what they were saying. And then there was the skit that was not blocked out, not beeped out, the Tonightly Show with Tom Ballard they repeatedly used and showed the c-word in full glory and called the Australian Conservative candidate for the seat of Batman a “C”. Have you had any response yet Minister?

FIFIELD:

I haven’t had a formal response from the ABC. But I have no doubt that will be coming very shortly. I thought it was important to make crystal clear to the ABC, on behalf of the community, that this sort of language isn’t acceptable and this sort of behaviour isn’t acceptable.

BOLT: 

But Tom Ballard’s show has been using the f-word multiple times, sometimes 20 times in a show. I think they’ve used the c-word several times before. Last night on Media Watch Paul Barry used the f-word, you’re seeing that increasingly. What on earth is going on with the ABC? Does this worry you?

FIFIELD:

It does worry me. And the ABC’s own code is very clear that language can, on occasion, be coarse but it should be infrequent and it should not be gratuitous. And what you’ve called out is it is frequent and it is gratuitous.

BOLT:

So what’s changed do you think? What are they doing? We hear them talk about trying to go for the younger listener or something like that, or younger viewer. What do you think’s happening and what do you think needs to be done about it?

FIFIELD:

I think it’s lazy. Certainly in the case of those two supposed comedy programs, I think those that write the material must be of the opinion that it’s an easy way to get a laugh. But you’ve seen those two skits, neither of them were funny. They were coarse and they were gratuitously seeking to offend. We don’t need that on the national broadcaster.

BOLT:

Is this part of the ABC trying to chase a younger demographic do you think?

FIFIELD:

I don’t know. It could be. But I’ve asked for an explanation. I’ve pointed out that this does appear to be against the code. And I think all of us in public life, sure ridicule us, parody us. But in the case of Kevin Bailey, the Australian Conservatives candidate for Batman, he was putting himself forward as a candidate. Okay fine, ridicule. He’s served in uniform. He’s been a member of the SAS. For heaven’s sake, don’t just have a snarky rant and seek to cause offence for no reason.

BOLT:

Do you think there’s any coincidence, there were three main candidates they addressed in the Batman by-election they showed. Labor candidate. Greens candidate. Australian Conservatives candidate. Only one of them got called a “C” and that was the conservative. Coincidence?

FIFIELD:

Or not?

BOLT:

(Laughs)

PRICE: 
So under the commercial code of conduct we can’t use that language. Why are there different rules for the ABC?  

FIFIELD:
Well, the ABC, they have their own code. It’s drafted by the board. And if the ABC fall foul of the code, then ACMA, the regulator for media, can investigate. But the ABC… 

PRICE: 
But I think you’ve admitted there that under their code they can use that language?

FIFIELD:
Well the ABC code says … coarse language is something that should be infrequent… It shouldn’t be gratuitous…

PRICE
They could argue when they come back to you Minister, we do it infrequently. It only happens on Tom Ballard’s show and we don’t do it during the news. 

FIFIELD
(Laughs) Let them try. But it’s also very clear in their code that the public broadcaster should never gratuitously harm or offend. I think it’s pretty clear that in relation to Mr Bailey that it was gratuitous and it was seeking to harm.

PRICE:

So who should intervene at the ABC and what should happen to the people who have used this language? Should there be a punishment?

FIFIELD:

Well, ultimately, this is a matter for the board of the ABC.

PRICE:

We’ve seen that the board of the ABC are very reluctant to act on anything.

FIFIELD:

They are the ultimate editorial authority. And I’ll be catching up with the chair in the near future. And I’ll also be meeting with the full board in the near future. And I’ll be outlining what the community expectation is. Yes, the ABC has legislative independence from Government, but that doesn’t mean they should be immune from community standards.

BOLT:

Are you going to also meet with the board of the Australia Council, which has given a $10,000 grant to an artist Georgie Mattingley, one of whose big works of art involves drinking these highly colourful dyes and then demonstrating that her faeces is of that same colour?

FIFIELD:

Andrew, I’m very pleased to be able to guarantee for you that Australia Council funds were not expended on that particular venture.

BOLT:

But on that artist, yes?

FIFIELD:

The Australia Council, I’m advised, have put money in support of that artist before. But not for that particular work that you have made reference to.

PRICE:

You’re a Victorian Senator, are you staggered that Daniel Andrews can simply shrug his shoulders after blowing $400,000 of taxpayers’ money illegally on using government employees to work as electoral officers and then spend another million challenging it in the courts? Simply writes out a cheque, shrugs his shoulders and says move on?

FIFIELD:

It’s peculiar, isn’t it that…

PRICE:

Peculiar?

FIFIELD:

In the extreme. That you have the Attorney-General of the state, the first law officer. You have the Special Minister of State, who’s responsible for electoral integrity. Standing either side of the Premier, at a doorstop, basically just looking at the sky and whistling and saying look there’s really nothing to see here.

BOLT:

(Laughs)

PRICE:

It’s not funny though is it?

BOLT:

No it’s not funny, but gee, he’s right because Martin Pakula was looking at the trees, looking to his left. But honestly, look, I understand that there is a blurry line. I’ve worked for politicians and I know that in a sense – your electorate staff, Minister, they’d be working for your re-election, of course. And now and then that involves doing what some may say as Liberal Party work, I accept that. There’s a blurry line. Do you think there’s any doubt – should have been any doubt in Labor’s mind that it had not only crossed the line, it had taken a truck to the other side of the country over that line, in actually employing people to do almost exclusively Labor Party work dressed in red t-shirts.

FIFIELD:

Look, there shouldn’t have been doubt. The rule of thumb, which applies at the federal level, which I think people observe, is that your electorate staff can work towards your re-election. Fair enough. But, there’s a point at which you’ve obviously got to recognise that this is taxpayers’ money and there has to be limits on what those people do.

PRICE:

Just before you go. We’ve had a couple of calls over the last couple of nights from people in Tathra where that fire ripped through on Sunday on the weekend. A lot of discussion about how they had been asking for many years for improved mobile telephone coverage. You are the Communications Minister, are you asking for some answers as to why a tower wasn’t installed there to give full coverage for that community.

FIFIELD:

Well, the situation with the mobile phone network is that while we have 99 percent coverage for the nation’s population, we only have 30 percent of coverage for the land mass. For the telcos, they’ve just about reached the limits of what they can do commercially, which is why since we’ve been in government, we’ve been spending $200 million addressing community nominated mobile phone blackspots. And Tathra is one of those that was identified. And we committed at the last election that we would put a tower in there. And that is in process, we’ve got tenders out at the moment.

PRICE:

And locals who have protested about having the tower in as we discovered last night, what do you say to them?

FIFIELD:

Well you need good coverage, because you never know when emergency situations can happen. It’s always a balance, people want coverage. But they want to make sure that their amenity isn’t affected. But, it’s important that people have coverage.

[ends]