Behind The Sattler File

6PR is currently Perth's highest-rating AM-band radio, being one of the few commercial stations that has not converted to the hi-fi FM-band in the past few years. Overall, 6PR is number three in Perth, with 14.4% of the market share, behind 96FM (22.6%) and KYFM (14.7%). Its nearest AM commercial competitor, Radio West 1080 (previously known as 6IX and The Eagle), shares only 9.4% of the market. Even more significant is the fact that 6PR has the highest listenership among 'All Household Shoppers' of any Perth radio station -- 18.2%. On average, 25,000 people listen to 6PR in any 15 minute period between 5.30 am Monday to mid-night Sunday. Its total average weekly listenership is 210,000 people.56

6PR captures the lion's share of Perth's older market: it has 20.7% of 40 to 54 year-olds and 29.3% of 55 and overs, compared with its nearest commercial competitor KYFM (16.9% of the 40-54s; 12.3% of 55-ups). Only the non-commercial ABC 6WF comes close to 6PR with 22.3% of the 55+ age group.57 Thus, 6PR has a largely mature audience, among which is a large proportion of retired people and aged pensioners. About equal numbers of men and women listen to the station. By contrast, it has a relatively low young audience share: it has 7.3% of 10 to 17 year-old; 2.8% of 18-24s; 5.4% of 25-39s. This is in line with the greater appeal of the hi-fi pop music format of the FM stations for younger listeners, who are also relatively less interested in 6PR's frequent horse-racing coverage.

Since it is owned by the TAB, one of 6PR's principal functions is to promote gambling on the races. Even so, a 1990 market survey found that racing was of interest to a mere 8% of the station's 35 to 60 year-old listeners, with 93% interested in music and 73% in news and current affairs.58 This means 6PR and Sattler themselves race under a considerable handicap, having to keep listeners from switching off or changing stations during race-meet broadcasts. If 6PR is the 'Sport and Talk' station whose listeners prefer talk, then this is another commercial consideration which can be seen to underlie Sattler's sensational and dramatic treatment of Aboriginal sacred sites issues such as the Old Swan Brewery, Yakabindie and Marandoo, and his beating of the juvenile crime drum, so as to play sufficiently upon listener prejudices and fears to minimise the 'turn-off' factor.

The Sattler File is the second highest-rating morning program in Perth with 18.2% of the market share (behind 96FM with 23.1%). However, Sattler's program is listened to by 27.7% of the 35+ group, almost twice the share of its nearest competitor, KYFM, with 14.8%. In other words more people aged 35 and over tune-in to The Sattler File than any other morning radio show in Perth. Moreover, exactly twice as many 'Household Shoppers' (31.4%) listen to Sattler as listen to his nearest competitor on KYFM (15.7%). One implication of these figures is that far from 'reflecting public opinion', Sattler's public is in fact not a cross-section of the general community, but comprises mainly older age groups. 6PR claims that 'Howard Sattler has Perth Talking'; but he has very few young people (those under 35) talking, nor listening to his program in any significant numbers.

Something that makes 6PR's racist content even more unacceptable is that the station is wholly owned by a WA Government statutory authority, the TAB. The TAB owns a holding company, Lewara Pty. Ltd., which in turn owns Western Broadcasting Services (WBS), the licensee of Radio 6PR. 6PR's increasing reliance on revenue from the TAB was noted at its broadcasting licence renewal inquiry. By 1991, fees payable by the TAB to WBS for racing broadcasts amounted to 50 percent of the station's total revenue, double the amount in 1986-87.59 In other words 6PR, with its race and talk-back format, would collapse tomorrow if this government organisation were to pull out of it.

The TAB is intimately involved with the management of the station. The TAB board of 9 members is appointed by the WA Minister for Racing and Gaming, upon nomination and recommendation by the racing industry, and several TAB directors also serve on the board of WBS. While the ABT is now 'satisfied that the licensee has a more 'arms length' relationship with its ultimate owner, the TAB, than had been in evidence in the past',60 the Tribunal paid considerable attention at the last two renewal hearings to the issue of TAB dominance in the management of the station.

WA State Ministers, Premiers and Departmental Heads frequently appear on the Sattler program extolling particular policies and actions. This was particularly notable at the height of the dispute with Aboriginal people trying to stop the redevelopment of the Old Swan Brewery/Waugle site in 1989. The WA Labor government was known to have engaged Sattler's private public relations firm to organise a WA Government function in Switzerland. Premier Lawrence and previous State Premiers such as Brian Burke and Peter Dowding have also had close associations with the station and appeared as regular guests.

6PR's market position as a high profile 'talk and information' station undoubtedly contributes to its appeal to the Premier, her Cabinet and senior departmental officers -- particularly police officers (further facilitated by the station's physical proximity with various offices of the Police Department). At the same time the TAB's involvement in the station makes it a government business enterprise whose ratings and profitability politicians, particularly Labor politicians, could be expected to want to promote. These circumstances have favoured a close relationship between the station, government, politicians and state agencies which is unusual in the Australian context.

This station profile in part helps explain why WA Government ministers, officers and agencies have been reluctant to act against the station and The Sattler File despite their capacity to do so through the TAB. It also goes some way to explaining how The Sattler File could become the agency for public lobbies such as the victims of crime campaign orchestrated and fuelled by Sattler.

A talk station works best when continuing discussion and interest is generated in the issues being discussed, that is, when 'Howard Sattler Has Perth Talking' and listeners are not turning off. It is well placed to secure government comment on any issues it focuses on. It can utilise its government contacts to its advantage in terms of information and assistance. In relation to the juvenile crime issue, it can rely upon the police to support and encourage its public campaign. Additionally, the station's demographics give it an audience which can be expected to be more immediately concerned about juvenile crime and with being victims of such crime. Household shoppers, usually with children of their own, and the elderly, can be expected to be more concerned about offences against property and person than is the youth market of 96FM and KYFM. 6PR was therefore well placed to set in train this particular public campaign.

It is indeed significant that powerful influences on news media agendas in WA have succeeded over the past two years in turning the image of Aboriginal youth 180 degrees: from that of victims of police persecution as represented in the inquiries of the RCIADC and the HRCNIRV (and as emblematised by John Pat); to that of public enemy number one.

The campaign targetted legal and quasi-legal institutions -- their sentencing procedures and policies -- with the effect of disabling those agencies as authorities on sentencing with respect to juvenile offenders (of which Aboriginal youth make up a disproportionate number).

The power of agencies such as the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Human Rights Commission to intervene in this destructive and essentially racist campaign (though presented as racially neutral by its managers) was diminished. They were presented as meddlers and outside intruders without legitimate claims upon the social order.

Likewise, media regulatory bodies such as the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal and the self-regulatory Australian Press Council, already constrained and compromised by their limited powers, inadequate standards and, in the latter case, self-interested membership, were not disposed to go against what was presented as 'overwhelming' community sentiment by politicians and the media, and judged it unnecessary to act.

The significance of all this is that, although the WA Government is well aware of Aboriginal complaints against the offensive programming practices of 6PR, there is no evidence of it having exerted any influence through the TAB to change this; on the contrary, Sattler and 6PR have been heavily patronised by ministers and departmental heads.

The call for the WA Government to stop 6PR's destructive practices is not a demand for 'government interference with freedom of speech', but a clear moral and ethical obligation of the WA Government that any media operating under its auspices have well-defined codes of conduct in the treatment of issues concerning Aboriginal people.61

The WA Government's mutually supportive relationship with 6PR is fundamentally at odds with its own policy on Aboriginal affairs, its stated support for the recommendations of the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody (which stresses the need for ending racial prejudice) and its commitment to the national process of reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia. It certainly works counter to the WA Government's efforts to introduce Aboriginal studies into the State school curriculum for the purpose of creating better understanding of indigenous Australia.

It also conflicts with Federal Government policy and with the agenda set recently by the Prime Minister, following the public exposure of open racist contempt by NSW police in an amateur video. After describing racism in Australia as 'endemic and institutionalised' and a 'shame to the nation', Mr Keating promised to make the improvement of race relations 'the top priority' of his administration.

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