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Australia Network tender shut down

Government afflicted with Joyce Syndrome*

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The Australian government has terminated the protracted and controversial tender process for the $AU223 million Australia Network broadcasting contract.

The Minister for Broadband,Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy said that the government came to the decision acting on the advice of the Australian Government Solicitor after concerns that too many media leaks were hampering the tender process.

“The advice which the Government has received is that due to significant leaks of confidential information to the media, the Australia Network tender process has been compromised to such a degree that a fair and equitable outcome may no longer be able to be achieved,” Conroy said.

The Government has also asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate the leaks.

“The Government is extremely disappointed that such leaks have occurred and that the process has been compromised.

The ABC will continue to manage the broadcast until August 2012 and the government decides on how to handle the tender. “The Government will now make a decision on the long term arrangements for the operation of the Australia Network no later than the end of March next year,” Senator Conroy said.

The 10-year contract to broadcast Australian television into Asia via the Australia Network is currently held by the ABC but the tender was up for renewal and issued late last year creating a face off between the ABC and the part-owned Murdoch owned Sky News.

In June the government announced that it would extend the ABC's existing contract for six months in a bid to seek "additional information" from the bidders.

ABC managing director Mark Scott welcomed the decision to extend the ABC's contract.

"The corporation appreciates the opportunity to discuss with the Government the future role international broadcasting can play across the region," he said.

Meanwhile News Ltd, which has its own views on the leaks has suggested that political tampering may have taken place in the process.

"It will be interesting under Freedom of Information to find out exactly what has transpired, in particular whether the leaks reportedly awarding the contract to Sky are correct or not," News Limited spokesman Greg Baxter told the ABC.

In what looked like a badly-timed lobby attempt yesterday the ABC website had run an opinion piece from retired Asia Pacific based diplomat Bruce Haigh on “Australia Network best left in ABC hands.” The piece was subsequently hastily taken down in the wake of the announcement.

“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,” the op-ed piece said.

“SKY TV has already shown its colours by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of China. No doubt the Chinese couldn't believe their luck. 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 added.

While the article has been pulled down, at the time of writing it remained cached here. ®

*Joyce Syndrome - New phenomenon created in Australia by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce whereby if the going gets tough, just shut the entire situation down; for example, grounding an entire airline fleet to thwart industrial action for workers. ®

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