The NBN propaganda war

Malcolm Turnbull just might have a career in TV when he gets bored of politics. But is his attack on the 'NBN newspaper' justified?

Opposition communications and broadband minister Malcolm Turnbull is presumably looking forward to a long and fruitful political career, especially after the Coalition comes to power, but perhaps a career on TV might also be up his alley. That’s certainly the impression one gets after having a look at the YouTube video where he lampoons the government’s efforts to disseminate the NBN message via the Connecting Australia “newspaper”.

It’s a reasonably colourful fare, delivered with a verve usually reserved for late night teleshopping. There’s a joke or two about the slow pace of the rollout, although ‘arthritic’ snails, may not be too pleased with the comparison, and then there are the pot shots at the NBN community information kit on the NBN. Even the pens and the USB sticks in the kits aren’t spared Turnbull’s pithy gaze and then there is that “NBN newspaper”. A clear sign, according to Turnbull, that the NBN is going into the newspaper business, an act that should for some reason give heart to journalists across the country. 

At a time when the Australian media industry is waking up to some harsh truths Turnbull’s approach of tie the plight of the sector to the NBN may seem a tad churlish, but hey that’s satire for you folks.

However, there are some interesting points that warrant consideration. Connecting Australia may have the look and feel of a paper but it’s not. It’s essentially a government information pamphlet given the trappings of a newspaper. Now some may say that’s mutton dressed as lamb but do keep in mind that the livery of the Australian government is quite prominent at the top and I am not entirely convinced that the public will mistake Connecting Australia for the Daily Telegraph.

Connecting Australia is designed to extoll the virtues of the NBN and it’s a job that it does very well. It doesn’t make any reference to the slow pace of the NBN rollout or the political debate that has been its constant companion. As Turnbull gleefully suggests given the lack of balance of the publication NBN co boss Mike Quigley and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy will both comprehensively fail to meet any public interest test for media proprietors.

The only glitch for Turnbull is that Connecting Australia isn’t a newspaper it’s a government funded and produced information sheet. Is it propaganda, absolutely, but the government has a duty to spread the NBN message and it has every right to do so by any means at its disposal, whether it'sbe a NBN truck or the NBN kits.

The duty of injecting the necessary balance into the NBN debate falls on legitimate media organisations, and the industry’s track record on that doesn’t exactly engender faith. While some spew banalities and misinformation to cut the NBN down to size, others are often too effusive with their praises for the network. Technology Spectator is supportive of the NBN, however, we are happy to publish contrarian views on the subject and as this column has pointed out in the past the NBN Co and the government must be held accountable lest their ambitious vision turn into empty promises. By and large most technology publications and blogs are striving to do the same.

Having said that the government’s choice to create a fake newspaper does seem a bit odd and Turnbull has pounced on the opportunity. Ironically, he might actually be doing the Gillard government a favour by actually drawing attention these papers, or should I say glorified pamphlets.

A better focus for Turnbull 

Turnbull’s bravura (satire alert) performance on YouTube did make one thing crystal clear, as TV talent he is miles ahead of Labor’s Craig Emerson who had his own singing and dancing TV moment this week. However, one has to wonder what Turnbull’s motivations are, especially at a time when the Coalition has been flagging a conciliatory tone on the NBN.

The most prudent strategy for Turnbull would be to keep a low profile and unveil a more detailed version of Coalition’s NBN alternative. The shadow communications minister’s recent action would suggest otherwise, although the video exercise could just be Turnbull indulging in a spot of whimsy.

If Turnbull is serious about turning up the heat on NBN Co perhaps he will be better of focusing his energies in ensuring that the review of NBN Co’s handling of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests - conducted under the auspices of former justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria Stuart Morris - actually delivers some result. So far NBN Co has been able to effectively skirt past any request without batting an eyelid as evidenced by ZDNet’s recent experience

Despite filing a number of FOI requests on Huawei’s exclusion from the NBN contracts ZDNet has predictably failed to get an iota of information from NBN Co. Given the nature and significance of the NBN process there is a good case for some greater transparency. A blanket ban on responding to each and every FOI will only be counterproductive for NBN Co and the government in the long run.

NBN Co's regional drive 

Finally, the Gillard government has earmarked $15.2 million to roll out NBN training services across 36 communities as part of its Digital Hubs and Digital Enterprises program. The funds are being rolled across the nation with the hubs designed to serve as a point of contact, where professional trainers help local communities get the most out of the network. The latest announcement coincided with the plans to roll out the NBN fixed wireless network through local communities in central west New South Wales, with over 2,500 homes and businesses expected to be connected in stages starting mid- 2013.

NBN Co representatives are set to start discussions with 16 local councils including the Bathurst, Blayney, Cabonne, Coonamble, Cowra, Dubbo, Gilgandra, Lithgow, Mid-Western, Orange, Oberon, Parkes, Walgett, Warrumbungle, Wellington, Young areas. These talks that NBN Co shouldn’t take lightly, provided it has learnt its lessons from the somewhat acrimonious outcome in some parts of Victoria.  

The talks with the Golden Plains Shire, south of Ballarat, have not led to a positive outcome with the residents of the town of Napoleons consigned to a satellite service. The move has prompted the shire council to ask for federal government intervention but that’s unlikely to happen, unless of course the same episode is repeated in other councils across the country.  

Want access to our latest research and new buy ideas?

Start a free 15 day trial and gain access to our research, recommendations and market-beating model portfolios.

Sign up for free

Related Articles