Australian news network under investigation over pokie reform comments

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has launched an investigation into the Nine Network over comments by its football commentators regarding the government's planned poker machine reform.

An ACMA statement yesterday read: "ACMA has confirmed that it is investigating a complaint that Channel Nine broadcast political material without adequately identifying it as such during the NRL first preliminary final".

The comments, made during an NRL football match on September 23, saw Nine’s commentators Ray Warren and Phil Gould criticizing the reforms, labeling pokie reform as "rubbish". Mr Gould added "I’ve never seen a more stupid policy in all my life."

Networks are required to acknowledge political comment when broadcast as a condition of their licenses. "The identification of political material usually takes the form of a statement following the material advising on whose behalf the material had been broadcast", the ACMA statement noted.

Proposed reforms to poker machines will see gamblers forced to pre-commit to a limit on their losses, or instead use low-intensity poker machines with $1 bets.

Shelly Bates, Nine Network’s compliance manager, claimed, as reported by ABC's Media Watch, "The comments relating to the Federal Government proposed poker machine tax were purely the opinions of the commentators regarding matters directly affecting the NRL community". Mr Warren previously told Austereo's Triple M that the comments were "a directive from up top ... [to] be read by at least somebody" adding, "I think it was done on behalf of the [National] Rugby League, who is fully supportive of the clubs."

On Monday, independents in the Australian Parliament Andrew Wilkie and Nick Xenophon wrote to David Gyngell, chief executive of the Nine Network, accusing the network of "attempting to mislead (and alarm) viewers", and of breaching the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, the Broadcasting Services Act, and the Electoral Act. Nine responded with a statement yesterday, "The Nine Network will be providing Messrs Wilkie and Xenophon with a detailed and considered response on the issues they have raised, and we are confident we are not in breach of any code provisions."

If ACMA rules Nine in breach of its license conditions the watchdog may impose a fine or further license conditions, demand action to prevent further breaches, or even suspend or cancel the network's license.