February 16, 2012
The Oz and the STB. How to twist a story to suit your purposes. Or comparing apples with oranges.
Yes, we could go out and buy a cheap set top box (STB) and install it ourselves for just the cost of the box and a bit of our time, but this program isn’t aimed at us, is it? So why does the Australian (and now Channel News) pretend that it is? Why label it as “waste” without making a careful, considered comparison first?
When we buy a cheap STB we hopefully realise that it won’t be a top-shelf bells and whistles product with rock-solid reliability and ease of use. We know it will be bare-bones, fiddly and probably a bit buggy, and we are prepared to live with that. We won’t get more than what’s in the box and a basic warranty. We’ll do the firmware upgrades ourselves and make any wiring changes as needed.
It won’t be suited to the target market of Centrelink clients, it won’t include Centrelink’s admin work or the advice of the specialist groups that sought a product based on target usage criteria, including ease of use for the elderly and those with vision or fine-motor impairment. It won’t include home installation and demonstration, nor will it include an in-home warranty or 12 months of phone support. So why pretend that it’s comparable?
You can see the real intent here, it’s not just the opinionated writing style or the lack of factual, realistic comparison – the target is clearly labelled. So why does Channel News name the supposed culprit as the “Labour (sic) Federal Government” rather than the department and other bodies concerned? Why choose to make unfair – indeed ludicrous – comparisons and pin it all on a “Labour” (sic) government? (Yes, they – Channel News – hilariously can’t even get the “Labor” bit right!)
Because they are grinding an axe? Yes, the program could be done cheaper. But would it hit the target? (And when it didn’t we’d get the inevitable whinge about waste, of course.)
Of course the Australian is on the defensive about this because they chose to pick up the story and leave out a few key facts, like the whole point of doing it in the first place. That’s OK, it’s all about waste and mismanagement, they say. Nothing to do with fair and honest reporting, apparently.
If you or I want to buy a digital set top box the cost could easily be under $49, but when the Labour Federal Government go out and buy thousands of the devices, they mysteriously cost $698 a box to connect.
According to the Australian newspaper every set-top box delivered under Labour’s digital TV rollout could be costing the taxpayer an average of $698 — almost double the government’s original estimate and more than 30 times the cost of a box bought from the likes of JB hi Fi.
They are even dearer than a Full HD 40″ TV which can be purchased for $399 from almost any consumer electronics retailer.
Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Senator Stephen Conroy today said the Household Assistance Scheme, being rolled out as part of the switchover to digital television, was assisting some of the most vulnerable people across Australia.
The Scheme was developed in consultation with Vision Australia and received support from a specialist Consumer Expert Group, including Media Access Australia and CHOICE (full membership attached).
Media Access Australia is an independent not-for-profit organisation focused on increasing access to media for people with disabilities. CEO Alex Varley said the Scheme is a model for how government programs should be run.
“It has been designed in consultation with the people it will help and is sensitive and responsive to their needs,” (Alex Varley, 12 May 2011, Media Release, Media Access Australia).
The accreditation and registration process for installations has been developed in consultation with the industry: the Australian Digital Television Industry Association, which is the appropriate industry body, and various industry working groups.
Fact: the $350 figure is an average cost for the assistance package per household, not just for a set top box.
THE cost of converting analog televisions to digital under the federal government’s set-top box scheme has ranged from $158 to $1528 for each installation.
In a statement released late yesterday, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy defended the costs of the scheme, saying the highest-cost conversions occurred in outback Queensland and involved a satellite dish, decoder and new wiring.
In a small country town, the cost was an average of $492, while it was as low as $158 for a household in a large regional city.
Senator Conroy declares our story is invalid because “it mixes actual costs with estimated costs”. We suggest the word the minister is looking for is not “mixes” but “compares”. Heaven help the taxpayer if Senator Conroy is seriously suggesting that the amount the government spends on a project should not be compared to the amount the government said it would cost.
It is yet another program characterised by waste and questionable probity. It joins other troubled schemes such as pink batt insulation, Grocery Choice, Fuel Watch and aspects of Building the Education Revolution. At a time of fiscal consolidation at home and austerity abroad, you would think the government would be less eager to waste money. Based on the available numbers, the scheme is costing double the original estimate and 30 times the cost of set-top boxes at stores.
Some critics may accuse this newspaper’s campaign against government waste and mismanagement as reflecting a “Tea Party” ideology. We reject this suggestion as governments across the world are now dealing with the consequences of failing to live within their means and are adopting a more prudent approach to state finances.